The fast pace of growth in big data analytics over the last four years has seen it become much more of a priority for senior personnel on the business side of an organisation, rather than being seen purely as an IT project.

This is among the findings of a new report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which noted that the tone of conversations around big data has shifted from initial excitement over its potential to an expectation that it will deliver long-term gains.

Some 44 per cent of respondents agreed that data has become an important tool for driving strategic decision-making, up from 39 per cent in 2011. A further 14 per cent of this year's respondents stated that data has completely changed the way they do business. Just three per cent of companies felt that the rise of big data has had no impact on how they operate.

"Over the past four years, executives have not only become better educated about the technology behind big data, but have fully embraced the relevance of data to their corporate strategy and competitive success," the study stated.

It noted that since 2011, many companies have come to view big data as a strategic asset. As a result of this, the number of businesses that have well-defined data management strategies that focus on identifying and analysing the most valuable data has seen impressive growth.

The benefits of such an approach are also becoming clearer. The EIU noted there is a clear correlation between effective management of data and positive financial results.

"Companies with a well-defined data strategy are much more likely to report that they financially outperform their competitors," the report stated. "In addition, they are more likely to be successful in executing their data initiatives and effectively applying their data and analytics to resolve real and relevant business problems."

Enterprises across all industries have been successful in attracting the attention of the board when it comes to their big data initiatives. Senior executives across all functions and business units are increasingly taking the lead on projects instead of relying on IT.

However, there is still much work to be done if enterprises are to make the most of their potential. The EIU characterised the position of many businesses as being in the "data adolescence" phase, where they have overcome the initial obstacles and are learning and growing quickly, but have not yet reached full maturity.

Indeed, less than a third of respondents (30 per cent) said they put all their data to good use. The majority of companies (54 per cent) felt there were only using around half of their valuable information, while 16 per cent said they leveraged "very little" of these resources.

Going forward, the EIU noted that companies will need to shift their focus away from volume when considering big data and instead think more about how they will extract value from the information.

"Data and analytics will be increasingly applied to predict future outcomes and automate decisions and actions," it said. "Most importantly, many companies will have to continue to evolve their structure and culture to scale up successful data pilots across the entire organisation."