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We hear a lot about data democratization, and for good reason. The business value of democratizing data is very real after all. And when achieved, enabling data consumers to use data effectively pays high dividends — both for businesses and for the world.
But as companies rush to jump on the trend, many efforts stall. This hinders innovation and even puts sensitive data at risk as companies struggle to find the right balance between enabling the free use of data and making sure it is secure. So, how do we establish a safe, scalable and successful data democracy?
“Establishing a democracy” sounds big, but it doesn’t have to be. A data democracy is, in many ways, like any other democracy, and it’s worth considering what that really means. The word democracy comes from the Greek words dēmos (“‘the people”) and kratia (“power”’). So maybe it’s that simple: To establish a data democracy, start with your people and empower them.
The earliest democracies started locally, and then the concept spread. Companies can approach establishing a data democracy in a very similar way. Here are three steps to get started:
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Empower your people: Foster a data-oriented culture
We often assume that if we give people access to data, they’ll know what to do with it. But that’s rarely the case. And of course, there is a natural resistance to change. It’s not an “if you build it, they will come” kind of thing — data users need to be shown the way.
This is not a trivial task. The annual Data and AI Leadership Executive Survey found that cultural obstacles remain the greatest barrier to organizations becoming data-driven, with more than 90% of respondents saying it is their biggest challenge. And, less than one in five companies have successfully established a data culture. But, this also represents a great opportunity.
To lay the foundation for a data democracy, commit to building a data-positive culture:
- Talk to your team about using data, show them how and celebrate successes.
- Keep it easy, breezy. Put resources into creating a positive, user-friendly data experience for your team. Do everything you can to make data simple to access and understand.
- Invest in training to instill confidence in your team that they can trust the data at hand and use it in smart and innovative ways.
- Take the lead from other successful democracies: Enable your people to have a voice and become part of the decision-making.
Start local: Democratize in pockets
Any sweeping approach to implementing change will be met with resistance. Companies often try to go big, building a huge data infrastructure to support tons of use cases. Fast forward, say, a year and a half, and lots of time, resources and money have been spent with no significant business goal achieved.
Instead of launching an expansive, company-wide initiative, start local. By that, I mean start small and create pockets of data democracy:
- Choose a single use case to focus on, master it and solve for it end-to-end. Then apply those learnings and processes to other use cases.
- Be laser-focused on providing the best experience possible for those particular business users and implement it fully with the right processes and modern technology.
- Lead by example. When other groups within your company see how effective the project was, they too will want to get their hands on data, and you’ll already have a scalable process in place. Then your data democracy will begin to spread.
Control the chaos: Establish a scalable, automated process
Without rules in place and with data open and available to all, we’d have utter and complete chaos. Anarchy, if you will. On the flip side, if we put all of our data under strict lock and key, giving control to only a small few, we’d have an oligarchy. Maintaining a democracy means giving people power, but with certain agreed-upon rules in place to maintain order and benefit the greater good.
In a data-driven business, this comes in the form of sound, scalable processes for accessing and sharing data — and using technology to your advantage:
- Automate whatever you can, from data security to compliance to access. Take data access requests, for example. Far too many companies — 61% according to a recent survey — still rely on manual processes to review and approve data access requests. Automating this can eliminate bottlenecks and cut the process down from days and weeks to minutes.
- Go one step further and empower your people with self-service access. If data users can get the data they need on their own, and quickly and easily, they will become increasingly comfortable doing so.
Democracies aren’t built in a day
Data democratization places the immense power of data in the user’s hands, boosts organizational efficiency, drives deeper customer insight and allows for greater personalization. It also creates a single source of truth for data within an organization.
But remember — it’s a journey. It starts by breaking down barriers between people and data and providing the freedom to use data in creative and innovative ways. By focusing on culture, empowering people, starting small and leveraging automation, a data democracy is fully achievable.
Eldad Chai is cofounder and CEO of Satori.
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