According to the report, which was commissioned by ThoughtSpot and based on responses from 464 business executives, employees must be trained on how to act on insights when they have them and be given autonomy to make decisions in the moment.
For companies that are arming their workers with data today, 32 percent see a "significant increase" in product or service quality, while 28 percent see an increase in productivity or efficiency, according to the report.
This translates into bottom-line results: Nearly half of data-led companies increased revenue by 10 percent or more in the past year, while 16 percent increased it by 30 percent or more, executives at those companies said.
Realizing these benefits requires a big culture shift in which decision making is distributed more broadly within organizations--a change that needs to be driven from the top.
Here are five key steps identified in the report to productively empower frontline workers with data:
1. Arm workers with data--and the power to use it
Workers need the right data, insights, and technology to make high-quality decisions in the moment, the respondents agreed. Despite that knowledge, fully 86 percent of executives said their front-line workers lack those insights and tools today.
At the most advanced organizations, where data is having the biggest impact, employees aren't just permitted to act on data, they're actively encouraged to go beyond the traditional scope of their jobs and operate autonomously. Putting this trust and power in the hands of workers was seen as critical to success.
2. Provide training as well as tools
More than two-thirds of executives said they provide their workers with training to use new digital tools, but less than half (46 percent) are training them in how to apply insights the tools can generate.
In fact, good tools shouldn't require much training at all, but frontline workers do need to know how to share and act upon the insights they discover. This speaks to the need for managers and supervisors to support data initiatives--and those managers and supervisors also need training to do this effectively.
3. Start with leadership
Arming workers with the power of data requires big changes in both process and culture, and senior leaders must drive this change from the top by providing their full support and leading by example, respondents said. Programs that train workers in how to understand and use data must involve everyone in the organization, from executives to middle managers and the frontline workers themselves.
Executives at organizations classed as "leaders"--those that are fully empowering workers with data today--were much more likely to say their executives and managers actively promote data use by front-line workers. Fifty-three percent of the executives at leading organizations agreed with that statement, versus just 16 percent at the companies considered laggards.
4. Serve as coaches and facilitators
The analytics team should play a significant role in the transformation by serving as coaches to frontline workers. Executives at several companies said their analytics staff had reduced the number of data reports they produce and were instead mentoring frontline workers to help themselves.
For example, Verizon's analytics team used to generate about 600 reports daily. These reports were eliminated last year, and the team now shows frontline workers how to get the information they need themselves. This allows analytics teams to spend more time on higher-level tasks that generate more value for the business.
5. Create guardrails for security and governance
When workers are given more autonomy, they also need guardrails to ensure they use data in accordance with company policies and industry regulations. Less than half (48 percent) of the "laggards" in the report say they have sufficient security and governance practices in place today, while for leaders the figure is 75 percent.
The key is giving workers enough free agency to make decisions while ensuring compliance for the organization. To address that, security and governance must be embedded into new data-driven processes, to provide workers with both the autonomy and the controls they need. Businesses also need tools that allow security to be baked in at the most granular levels of data.
As enterprises collect more data about all aspects of their business, capitalizing on this data requires putting it in the hands of sales teams, store managers, nurses, and other front-line workers and empowering them to use it. This requires a company-wide effort that impacts managers, supervisors, and data analytics teams, who all must play a role in coaching workers and facilitating their success. The rewards are significant, but it takes a purposeful approach to culture and process to get there.