Big data certainly isn’t new, but the proliferation of information has made it a big topic over the past decade. The amount of data that we have access to is growing in spades – about 2.5 billion gigabytes of new information is generated daily. And with advancements in algorithms and machine learning helping us to aggregate data in new and exciting ways, the possibilities are almost incomprehensible.

More Data, More Problems

Drawn to its promise of growth optimization and increased efficiency, companies have invested billions in the infrastructure needed to acquire and house vast amounts of information; and the cash continues to flow. According to Gartner, 75% of companies are currently investing or plan to invest in big data in the next two years.

But big data has yet to live up to its hype, and the majority of organizations are still waiting to see the return on investment. Only 14% of companies have actually deployed projects to leverage the data that they are paying for, and senior leadership is not feeling terribly confident in its immediate value either. In a recent study, 43% of executives reported that they are “obtaining little tangible benefit from their information,” while 23% “derive no benefit whatsoever.”

As adoption rates dwindle and data sits idle in databases, early investors and the C-Suite alike are beginning to wonder if talk of the “Big Data Age” was simply the flavor of the week.

Adoption Woes

Analysts have been quick to name technological, budgetary, infrastructure and security constraints as the primary culprits impeding data initiatives, and granted, these roadblocks are sure to arise along the way; however, employee culture is arguably the most fundamental determinant of successful data adoption. And while executive-level support for data initiatives is important, it’s the bottom-up pressure and championing from every level of an organization that allows it to build a truly data-driven culture.

The problem is that the majority of workplaces have rooted data-averse cultures, marked by a legacy of hierarchical workplace structures, departmental silos and ingrained processes that complicate the process of data integration. Employees tend to view data management as the responsibility of business analysts and IT departments, rather than as critical resource in the success of teams across the organization.

Consequently, organizations often lack the championing that pushes senior leadership to prioritize an investment in data initiatives. And even in the cases where executives are ‘pro-data’, they are hard-pressed to build a critical mass of adopters within a data-averse employee base.

Enter the Millennials

Millennials, the little revered generation of twenty- and thirty-somethings, are all too often called the ‘me’ generation. But despite the bad rap that they’ve received in the workplace, they are arguably the most tech-savvy, collaborative, and forward-thinking generation to date. Making up 33% of the workforce today – and expected to grow to 75% by 2025 – millennials are poised to disrupt the legacy of data-averse cultures in a big way.

Raised with computation devices and the internet, millennials can hardly remember a time when information wasn’t at their fingertips. And more recently, smart phones have given birth to advanced crowdsourced data applications that allow them to weave big data into every facet of their lives.

The result is a generation that intuitively relies on data and algorithms to drive just about every choice they make. From researching high-ranking restaurants on Trip Advisor, to harnessing crowdsourced GPS data to optimize their driving route on Waze, millennials don’t view data as a nice to have; rather, they see information and analytics as necessary resources to help them thrive as citizens and consumers. They want data available to them at all times to make the most informed decisions possible, and they expect the same access to information and insights to guide decisions in their professional lives. They won’t accept an organization that chooses to go with their gut instinct over data to drive key business decisions.

And technology has done more than simply build a generation of data-obsessed decision makers; it is also responsible for creating the most collaborative generation in history. Immersed in social media, millennials are accustomed to being connected at all times. They eagerly publicize their choices and opinions online, and they crave constant dialogue and feedback from their personal and professional networks. They expect the same data-backed, cross-departmental connection and collaboration to help them drive innovation and optimize outcomes in the workplace. They simply won’t accept the legacy of departmental silos that have traditionally served to stymie data adoption in data-averse office cultures.

Driving Adoption

So what does this mean for the 36% of organizations that are still blaming legacy issues as they fail to create pro-data workplaces?

As organizations compete to acquire and retain the best millennial talent, they will feel significant bottom-up pressure to prioritize investment in data initiatives and democratize access to information. This means not only collecting data; but also implementing cloud-based analytics solutions that provide real-time information and flexible manipulation of data to all employees. Millennials will lead the way in building a culture that is passionate about data-driven decision-making.

For organizations, it’s time to change. Not only to reap the benefits of institutionalizing a data-centric culture across departments; but also to engage and retain the next generation of millennial talent who thrive in data-rich environments, where data can be used to fuel their professional growth, power cross-departmental dialogue, and drive key decisions.