The majority of businesses in Europe and North America are not well-optimised to make the most of their big data analytics initiatives, even though most leaders are confident they are able to leverage their information effectively.

This is according to a new study by PwC and Iron Mountain, which found that even though three-quarters of senior business executives say they are making the most of their data assets, just four per cent of enterprises are set up for success in reality.

It also found more than four out of ten companies (43 per cent) obtain "little tangible benefit" from their information, while 23 per cent see no positive results at all.

Richard Petley, director of PwC Risk and Assurance, stated that data is the "lifeblood of the digital economy". In addition to delivering key insight, he said it can help build relationships, inform decision-making and act as a generator of revenue in its own right.

"Yet when we conducted our research, very few organisations can attribute a value and, more concerning, many do not yet have the capabilities we would expect to manage, protect and extract that value," he added.

It was suggested that many companies are unaware of the potential of their untapped data resources. Some 16 per cent of business executives surveyed said they did not believe their organisation knew what data it had, while 23 per cent were unaware how information is transferred within their business, or where it would be most useful. One in five respondents also admitted they did not know where their data was most vulnerable.

Mr Petley added: "Data is so pervasive that it is taken for granted or is seen as a by-product. Often it is only when disaster strikes that this assumption is broken." It some cases, information is seen as only the purview of the IT department, instead of a valuable resource that needs to be shared company-wide.

By ignoring this information or regarding it as unimportant, businesses will be left at a significant competitive disadvantage when compared with more data-savvy rivals, the study warned. 

Three-quarters of companies surveyed lack the necessary skills and technology to bridge this gap. What's more, 75 per cent of businesses have not employed a dedicated data analyst – and even among those that have hired an expert, just a quarter are using these personnel effectively. 

The study noted that simply hiring the right people may not always be the best solution to this problem, particularly as there is a huge amount of competition for skilled data scientists. Sue Trombley, managing director of thought leadership at Iron Mountain, said that every company is different and will have its own requirements for data.

"Companies with less sophisticated analytics requirements may be able to fill the skills gap using existing employees, by sending them to focused training sessions such as data analytics boot camps [and] night courses," she noted.