Survey Says! MOAR Data Please

If you want to know about how data can be used in 2015, it makes sense to ask the people who know best. So that’s exactly what we did with our exclusive Year of the Data Nerd survey.

In December 2014 we used Twitter and email to ask data nerds to respond to a number of questions about the role they see for data and software analytics in the coming year.

data nerd infographic header

Here are the biggest, most encouraging takeaways:

  1. The vast majority of respondents said they’d be stoked to work at companies that use data to prioritize work, build feedback loops, and hold teams accountable.
  2. New Relic users were far more likely to deploy software updates more often than non-New Relic customers. Data nerds indeed!

For a quick visual look at the survey results, check out this cool infographic we built, and for a deeper dive into the numbers, read on…

Web natives love data

Not surprisingly, data nerds at Web, mobile, or tech-native businesses are more confident about their use of data compared to their competitors. Nearly 43% of Web-first companies rated themselves ahead of the competition, compared to just 16.9% of offline companies. Meanwhile, 28.3% of historically offline companies saw themselves trailing the competition, a perspective shared by only 11.7% of online-first companies.

DataNerdInfographic detail1

Similarly, when asked how well their companies use data to decide how to invest, prioritize features, and run their customer-facing Web and mobile apps—only a few (9%) claimed “data nerds are everywhere here.” And of those, 75% were Web-native outfits. On the other end of the spectrum, of the 17% who responded, “This question makes me sad. We’re not even close to doing that,” an outsize proportion (55%) came from traditionally offline companies.

None of this should be too shocking. Because of the massive scale and lack of legacy constraints, top Web-native companies are increasingly setting the technology agenda for IT departments in more traditional industries in everything from software development, cloud computing, digital transformation, and mobility. Even the largest of these enterprises may now find themselves playing catch up.

Familiarity breeds confidence

Specifically, when asked which department at their company uses data most effectively, the responses showed a slight self-bias by choosing their own departments about 30% of the time. Still, even accounting for that, there’s a perception that marketing (22%) and software development (21.2%) top the list of data-savvy departments. The leaders were followed by IT operations (16%), sales (13%), and finance. Central IT, HR, manufacturing, and facilities were each seen as leaders by fewer than 5% of respondents.

You’ve got to measure it to fix it

When we asked about impediments to experimenting with new features or functions in customer-facing apps, we saw a lot of room left for improvement. Only one quarter of respondents didn’t see or experience some sort of technical or organizational barrier to experimentation.

The biggest issue by far? A limited ability to measure and interpret what works and what doesn’t (32%). Other issues, like a culture that doesn’t accept failure (13%), lack of accountability (12%), rare software releases (10%), and difficulty rolling back features (8%) were also cited.

The takeaway? Almost everyone has work to do on using data to make software decisions and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t in their software.

Feedback: What goals matter most

When it comes to using data-driven feedback loops to make customer-facing software successful, the survey asked: “In the process of making customer-facing software successful this past year, which area has the best data-driven feedback loops in your company?” The results indicated that the biggest new opportunity may lie in customer engagement.

In 2014, customer engagement (30%), app performance (36%), and business success (35%) were all seen as relatively evenly successful. But when asked which area would have the most positive impact in helping your organization deliver great customer-facing software in 2015,  customer engagement (38%) and business success (37%) topped the list.

Far from being mere performance geeks, even software engineers seem to be jumping on the customer engagement bandwagon, with 23% of those responses coming from developers. Customer engagement… it’s not just for breakfast any more.

More deployments, more often

Datanerdinfographic detail3One highly desired result of data-driven feedback loops is more frequently deployed code. There’s plenty of room for improvement: For example, 13% of respondents said they never released code to production in 2014, at least for the apps they are most familiar with. Only 35% released code at least weekly, while the rest made do with monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual deployments.

Progress is coming, however. Many respondents expect to speed their deployment schedules this year. Only 8% don’t expect to release any code in 2015, while 41% expect to deploy at least weekly, up 17%.

Interestingly, 58% of New Relic customers said they deploy weekly or more frequently, a huge jump from the 29% of non-New Relic customers who deploy that often!

Data nerds rule

DataNerdinfographic detail2As noted above, perhaps the most positive, encouraging result of the survey is that an overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that “a culture of using data to prioritize work, build and adjust feedback loops in a logical way, and holding team members and other groups accountable” is something they look forward to or expect in a job. A healthy 46% called it “exciting” while 41% said it’s what they “expect from a work environment in 2015.” Just 1 in 10 (11%) said they didn’t know how they’d feel about it, and only a minuscule 2% found the prospect “distasteful.”

Perhaps contrary to the prevailing media narrative of companies using data to browbeat workers, in our industry at least, people are clearly not afraid of data… they crave it. Look for more on this topic in the coming weeks.

By the numbers

The Year of the Data Nerd was not intended to be a scientific, statistically valid survey. To put the results in perspective, however, more than 700 people responded to the survey, 64% of whom said they work on the team responsible delivering a mobile and/or Web customer experience for their company. Some 60% of respondents said they work for companies with 100 or fewer employees, while 24% work for enterprises with more than 1,000 employees. Technology was the single largest industry reported, but comprised just 14% of the total. Only 30% said they were New Relic customers.

Stay tuned for more coverage of what respondents had to say about data in 2015, as well as how data usage plays in employment decisions. And we’ll have a full report on the survey, including details on the methodology, later in the quarter.

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Fredric Paul (aka The Freditor) is Editor in Chief for New Relic. He's an award-winning writer, editor, and content strategist who has held senior editorial positions at ReadWrite,, InformationWeek, CNET, Electronic Entertainment, PC World, and PC|Computing. His writing has appeared in MIT Technology Review, Omni, Conde Nast Traveler, and Newsweek, among other places. View posts by .

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