Embrace data for smarter decision-making

With the rapid pace of technological innovation, businesses need to stay ahead of the curve. Future-Fit companies invest in cutting-edge technologies and continuously upgrade their systems to improve efficiency, enhance customer experiences, and stay competitive. 

Data-driven businesses make smarter decisions more quickly – and secure competitive advantage as a result. The Future Fit firms identified in our latest research are determined to take every opportunity they get to capitalise on their data. As a result, their commercial performance is already outstripping that of their rivals.

Our research identifies the leaders on technology and innovation:


  • Future Fit businesses are twice as likely to have already begun to implement artificial intelligence tools and capabilities, compared with the average we surveyed
  • 92% of Future Fit businesses use data analysis to inform most or all of the significant decisions they make
  • 62% continuously make iterative improvements to their products and services, based on feedback on the impact of these changes


“If you don’t have access to the data on every aspect of your business and the broader market, staying competitive is going to get harder and harder,” says Jonathan Barrow, our Head of National Sectors.

New technologies such as artificial intelligence enable us to turn data into insight incredibly quickly. If you’re not using that data, your competitors almost certainly are.

Our research, based on a survey of 1,000 UK businesses across 10 sectors, recognises this imperative, identifying technology and innovation as one of the four crucial pillars on which Future Fit businesses rely (alongside sustainability, talent, and the supply chain).

Future Fit businesses see a willingness to innovate, to embrace new technologies and to work based on what the data tells them as crucial to their future growth.

The results speak for themselves. Almost half the Future Fit businesses in our research (45%) have delivered significant growth over the past 12 months, more than twice as many as their peers.

Be more data driven

There was a time when the success of a business depended on the gut instincts of its leaders. In today’s world, there is still a place for inspiring leadership and creativity, but technology provides a means with which to stress test new ideas. By collecting, managing, and analysing as much data as possible, businesses move closer to a real-time understanding of every aspect of their performance – and of what’s happening in the broader marketplace.

Our analysis identified businesses as Future Fit when it comes to technology and innovation based on their approaches to data and developing new products, services and capabilities.

More than nine in ten (92%) Future Fit businesses say data analysis is used to inform most or all of the significant decisions they make. This compares with 23% of the overall sample.

Future Fit businesses are also constantly assessing the environments in which they operate to identify their best next move – 59% say they use advanced analytics tools to crunch real-time data in order to predict market changes, compared to just 10% of all businesses surveyed.

And Future Fit business are able to constantly fine-tune their products, services and value proposition according to what the data tells them about what is working and what is not. Almost two-thirds of Future Fit businesses (62%) say they continuously make iterative improvements to their products and services, with formal experiments designed to test the impact of such tweaks, compared to 17% of the total sample.

The customer has always been king, Jonathan points out, but now it is possible to take your lead, in real time, from the market.

“Creating those customer feedback loops is really important,” he says. “Intuition is still valuable, but you no longer have to make decisions based on your sole view of the world – your customers will tell you whether your products or services are doing what they want.”

How to get fit for the future

Future Fit businesses in this research stand out in a range of ways:

  • Their determination to return to data.

More than a third (34%) say they will not make any significant investments without seeing empirical evidence of the potential benefits; even more (41%) believe the future success of their business depends on its ability to collect, manage, and analyse data.

  • Their readiness to try lots of new things.

Future Fit businesses experiment, with the intention of abandoning ideas that don’t work in favour of investing in those that do. In our research, 65% of Future Fit businesses agree that a ‘fail fast’ approach to innovation is the only way to keep up – including 28% who strongly agree.

  • Their willingness to be bold and embrace new directions.

Some 28% of Future Fit businesses strongly agree their digital transformation strategy includes developing new business models. That might mean shifting to an as-a-service proposition, for example, or abandoning physical locations in favour of ecommerce.

  • Their attitude towards innovation.

These businesses are excited by the opportunity to use data – as well as a range of new technologies – to try new things. Rather than being daunted by the pace of change, they’ve adopted a growth mindset.


Has your organisation implemented the following capabilities, or does it plan to do so in future?

% of respondents that selected 'extensive implementation'

Seek out benefits from greater productivity to change management

More broadly on technology and innovation, Future Fit businesses are more likely to embrace new technologies and to be thinking about how to organise for transformation.

For example, 30% of these businesses are now implementing artificial intelligence, compared with only 14% of all businesses. Meanwhile, 30% are creating cross-functional teams to lead digital innovation projects and 26% now use formal change management capabilities.

Our research shows there is a great deal of work for most businesses to do to attain Future Fit status for their approach to technology and innovation.

“The rate of adoption is going to increase rapidly over the next couple of years, so there is a real risk of being left behind,” warns Jonathan. “If you’ve got good quality data and you’re not using it, you’re missing an opportunity.”

Three key steps to success with technology and innovation:

  • Identify the data assets you already have in your organisation and how these can be augmented – then identify the tools and processes you need to turn this information into actionable insight. Seek third-party support from specialist advisers to help you through this process.
  • Move to a culture of data-driven decision-making by default – this will enable a more agile approach to pursuing growth opportunities, with ambitious transformation that takes place iteratively and continuously.
  • Apply this approach to your broader strategy on technology and innovation – and consider how technology could help your business to boost productivity, reduce costs and to drive other business benefits.

Create a sustainable business strategy for the long-term

Despite the pressures of today, there are opportunities to innovate or grow. We’re here to help you prepare for tomorrow with the capability and confidence to act today.

Discover more ideas here.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

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