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Data democratisation: a business necessity for a data-driven world

Tue 16 Mar 2021 | Mathias Golombek

What do we mean by data democratisation? And will it take digital transformation to the next level? Mathias Golombek, CTO of Exasol, explores

Businesses today collect so much data from so many sources on a daily basis that it’s not surprising teams can feel inundated and overwhelmed. And it doesn’t stop there. Collecting data isn’t enough – organisations need to be able to analyse it to glean actionable insights that can help improve overall business performance.

Previously, data was mostly kept in the hands of a few specialists—data analysts—who had the skills and understanding necessary to properly organise, crunch and interpret it for their organisation. This approach was born out of necessity as the majority of business employees were not trained on how to effectively work with the growing flood of data.

But with the emergence of technologies that make it easier to share, interpret and work with data across the board—data democratisation—things have now changed. Data democratisation allows data to pass safely into the hands of every employee within a company so they can use it to better inform the day-to-day decisions their roles require.

Data democratisation means that everybody has access to data and there are no gatekeepers that create a bottleneck at the gateway to the data,” according to data influencer Bernard Marr. “It requires that we accompany the access with an easy way for people to understand the data so that they can use it to expedite decision-making and uncover opportunities for an organisation. The goal is to have anybody use data at any time to make decisions with no barriers to access or understanding.”

Why is it important?

Universal access to data is critical for businesses to gain a competitive advantage. When more people across the organisation have access to data and the ability to understand it quickly and easily, more problems are solved and new opportunities are unlocked. Data democratisation also empowers individuals at all levels of responsibility to use data-driven insights in their decision making.

Data democratisation means freeing information from the silos created by internal departmental data, customer data and external data, and turning it into a borderless, integrated ecosystem of information. It means organisations are pushed to re-think and maybe even restructure their teams and processes. This also often means driving a cultural change, but the benefits are worth it.

Data democratisation today

Last year, our research found that senior decision makers were confident that they were taking the necessary steps to opening up the access to data for their employees. However, when we dug a little deeper, we found that almost half (46%) of respondents believed that that data democratisation wasn’t viable for their organisation.

They claimed that technology constraints, infrastructure challenges and performance limitations were standing in their way. This uncovers that, globally, valuable insights from data aren’t being gathered quickly enough, causing projects to stall and organisations to lose the competitive edge.

So, what steps can organisations take to create an effective data democratisation programme of their own in 2021? These are my top tips:

  1. Assign a data leader

Business should consider hiring a Chief Data Officer (CDO) to take responsibility and ownership of its data.

IBM describes a CDO as, “a business leader who creates and executes data and analytics strategies to drive business value.” They are responsible for defining, developing and implementing the strategy by which an organisation manages, analyses and governs its data. They also have a strategic responsibility to drive the identification of new business opportunities through more effective and creative use of data.

Achieving true data democratisation relies on having the right skills among employees and triggering their imagination and innovative ideas. The CDO is one of the best-placed individuals to make data an integral part of the everyday life of an organisation and create opportunities to increase data literacy levels across the business.

  1. Develop your data strategy

Organisations should also work closely with the CDO to develop a clear data and analytics strategy in order to extract all of the insights they need. This should be integrated within the overall business strategy to establish common and repeatable methods and processes to control and distribute the data throughout the business. In addition, if the entire organisation is involved from the start, then they’ll be more inclined to help drive the strategy forward.

With that said, a robust data strategy and culture also needs the right infrastructure to support it. When choosing a deployment model, organisations should consider performance, costs, expected workloads, and future requirements. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to make this decision after the data strategy is in place – to properly evaluate whether an on-prem, cloud or a hybrid approach is the right option for what needs to be achieved.

A hybrid cloud approach can often be the most efficient. It allows organisations to manage sensitive workloads on-premises, but also leverage the benefits of the cloud by migrating at a pace that’s tailored to the organisation’s needs.

However, no matter how effective an organisation’s strategy and infrastructure is, it has no value if its employees don’t buy into it.

  1. Prioritise education and data literacy

As businesses provide their employees with access to data, they should also build training into the process. Championing data literacy and trying to teach data as a second language within the business will be critical.

Data literacy is fundamental to both successfully enabling more people to be involved in driving the business with data and to gaining value through faster decision-making. Positively, 84% of organisations that we surveyed agree that they’d benefit from specifically improving the data literacy of their workforce.

Regardless of their level of technical expertise, everyone working with data can gain confidence by familiarising themselves with the components of the analytics stack in their organisation and the best practices that come with it.

  1. Implement the right tech stack

Getting the tech stack right will help organisations ensure that the resulting solution is fit-for-purpose. When scoping out options, they should keep in mind how they can enable more people to work with data to drive insights to support decision-making. During this process they should let employees experiment with their own data and the tools to give them a clear idea of what’s in it for them.

Having teams with various tools at their disposal will provide greater opportunities for the right tools to be used at the right time for the right purpose and outcome.

Leading by example

Considering all of the above, some organisations are already doing data democratisation well and are truly demonstrating its business value.

Revolut, a leading digital banking alternative, knows exactly how important data is to its success and reputation. The UK fintech is an extremely data-driven company, maintaining around 800 dashboards and running around 100,000 SQL queries on a daily basis across its organisation.

By embracing analytics and implementing an improved data management foundation, Revolut can unlock the true value of its data. Queries that used to take hours are now completed in seconds, enabling self-serve data analytics for all employees across all business functions. This is despite data volumes increasing 20x over the past twelve months.

As a result, every employee can access the data they need for their daily work in a simple and efficient manner. On top of this, the data science team uses the central database as a single point of truth, from which it can download real-time extracts and insights from at any time.

Revolut can now optimally analyse large datasets spanning several sources to assist in fraud detection, improving customer satisfaction, financial reporting, and more.

It’s time to start your own data-driven revolution

Businesses are increasingly under pressure to become data-driven, therefore should be expanding their efforts to democratise access to data across the whole organisation. Those that are serious about maximising the value of their data will push to enable employees at every level to understand and utilise the data at their disposal, so that they can harness critical business insights to inform effective decision making.

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