We’re seeing a new wave of democracy—of data, that is.
IT departments and organisations are allowing more business users access to data to expedite decision making, influence sales and customer service, and uncover opportunities.
I’m not the only one who sees the surge of data democratisation changing business operations. More than 77% of respondents to research from MIT Sloan Management Review reported an increase in access to useful data. The Walmart Data Café that I explore in my article, “Really Big Data at Walmart: Real-Time Insights from Their 40+ Petabyte Data Cloud,” is a great example of data democratisation, but in a controlled way.
For the bulk of the last 5 decades, data was “owned” by IT departments and used by business analysts and executives to drive business decisions. As organisations became inundated with data and bottlenecks increased due to volume, it became apparent that more business users needed to have access to the data to explore it on their own without IT being a gatekeeper.
In addition to the voluminous amount of data being created today, what else contributed to the adoption of democratising data? Let’s first look at the barriers to data democratisation and then to what has changed and what organisations should have in place as they open the gates to allow access to its data.
Barriers to Data Democratisation
There are several reasons why more organisations are open to democratising their data today, but certainly barriers have either been eliminated or significantly reduced. Here are just a few of them.
- Data silos: Although there has been improvement in recent years in breaking down data silos in an organisation, they still exist. Data used to be only accessible to executives who required it to manage the business and data specialists who were expected to gather and analyse the data and then report back to management. If you plan to take full advantage of data, it needs to be accessible to all. If it’s locked away and only one business unit has access to it, it will potentially block opportunity for your organisation.
- Fear: There was and still is real fear about maintaining the integrity of the data when it’s accessible to more people. When you allow a bigger group access to the data there are security concerns. In addition, fear about how people would use and interpret the data was prevalent and blocked earlier adoption.
- Analysis tools: Another barrier to data democratisation was the availability of appropriate tools to help analyse the data. These tools needed to allow those without a data analysis background to easily extract meaning from the data.
Data Democratisation Possible Due to Tech and Tools
Expanding the pool of people who can analyse and develop meaningful business action from data is critical to gain a competitive edge for your business, see the big picture and, in some cases, could ensure its survival. The easier and faster your people can access the data to get the business insights they need without help, is the goal of data democratisation. Here are just a few of the tech solutions that made data democratisation possible.
- Virtualisation: Data virtualisation software makes it possible for an application to retrieve and manipulate data without knowing the technical details about it. This eliminates the need for labour-intensive processes.
- Data federation software: This software compiles metadata from a variety of data sources into a virtual database so it can be analysed.
- Cloud storage: The adoption of cloud storage has been instrumental in breaking down data silos to create a central repository for data.
- Self-service BI applications: These provide non-technical users with tools that make data analysis easier to understand.
Considerations for Organisations when Democratising Data
As with any evolution in an organisation, data democratisation requires policies and training to ensure everyone understands expectations.
- Data governance: Data must be carefully managed. IT experts must work with management to ensure policies are in place to protect the data.
- Culture: In order for your team to be engaged to extract meaning from the data they will need to be inquisitive, persistent and armed with an open mentality to succeed.
- Training: To allay the fears that people will misinterpret the data, any organisation that endeavours to democratise their data needs to train employees on the best way to use the data to achieve the organisation’s goals. Ongoing education via seminars, self-study guides and allowing new learners easy access to the experts is crucial for success.
Data democratisation will be a game-changer for organisations that implement it properly with the right training and tools to allow their employees to quickly and easily extract powerful business meaning from the data.