87% of organizations are low in analytics and business intelligence (BI) maturity, which according to Forester, means most data and analytics initiatives are stand-alone projects siloed within individual business units.

How often does this happen? You are a marketer creating a case study on an existing customer, but you have to jump through hoops to get the right data. Or perhaps you’re an analyst whose insights are siloed because no one outside your team has access to your report. We all have experienced something like this in our careers.

Organizations understand there are clear benefits from better utilization of their data, yet few are effectively integrating it into their business. In fact, 88% of executives feel an urgency to invest in big data; yet 7 out of 10 say they have neither created a data-driven organization, nor forged a data culture within their company.

Part of that data culture includes the way that data is accessed, shared, and utilized. Most companies are data monarchies and aristocracies, where data access is strictly controlled and reserved for a select subset of the organization’s population. But there is a growing desire for another data culture — one that gives access to as many people as possible to create maximum value opportunities for the company.

Introducing Data Democracy

Data democracy is the concept of making data available to non-technical and non-IT people within an organization. The mantra of this approach is to unlock the potential for any employee to produce local value with access to data.

What would it look like? One example would be an organized catalogue of projects that are discoverable via search. Given governance and privacy compliance, anyone in a company would have access to anything that they need. In a controlled form, this could even be extended to sharing data externally.

While data democracy can be challenging to implement, the benefits are considerable. In addition, here are some necessary ingredients to make democratizing your data a reality.

Why Are Companies Doing It?

Opening up data access isn’t just a performative show of forward-thinking — It has tangible business benefits.

According to the McKinsey Global Survey, the highest performing companies make their data accessible across the organization and provide employees with the self-service analytics tools to run customizable queries. Compared to lower-performing peers, these companies were 40 times more likely to say that analytics had a greater impact on revenue.

Performance is another factor affected by data democracy, or lack thereof. Let’s look at sales, arguably the business function that generates the most obvious, tangible value. According to sales performance management SaaS company Xactly’s CEO, the average tenure of a Sales VP is just 19 months. Yet, when it comes to quota attainment, Sales Reps with longer tenures tend to perform better and it usually takes 3 years to reach peak performance.

This is partially because those who have been around longer will understand the product better and can access data points that are not readily available. What if these insights were captured in a single repository, available to the whole team? Democratizing data can serve as a sales enablement solution to help decrease new hire ramp up time and allow more employees to reach peak performance faster.

A searchable catalog of data products can not only act as a catalyst of discovery towards identifying new products and services, but also improving existing ones. If implemented well, even non-technical people can identify new insights without bringing in engineering — resulting in a two-fold benefit of time saved and value generated by empowering new use cases.

Key Ingredients to Data Democracy

There is certainly considerable potential to data democracy, but organizations may not be prepared for its implementation. In order to reap the benefits of making data accessible, there are some key prerequisites:

  1. Internal and external integration
  2. Defined schemas of inputs
  3. Identifiable catalog of datasets
  4. Derivability

1. Internal and External Integration

First, there needs to be an easy way to connect to systems such as internal BI and third-party SaaS tools. Employees should be able to go to one location to take a survey of what data exists before they can do anything with it.

2. Defined Schemas of Inputs

There are always differences in mapping and terminology among different applications. Defining this mapping allows a better understanding of the format of the data coming in so that end users don’t have to decipher the differences in naming conventions.

3. Identifiable Catalog of Datasets

Now that the mapping exists, present it to users in a user-friendly readable format. This means having an organized, searchable catalog of datasets that includes metadata so that it is obvious which systems have which data sets.

For instance, a sales rep at Google should be able to look up the type of company they are selling to and what keywords the customer usually buys to decrease friction and increase ticket size of the sale.

4. Derivability

The value of the previous point is increased exponentially when derivative data products can be created relatively easily, especially by non-technical individuals. Ease of creating similar data products allows for self-service and leads to maximum opportunity to create value for the company.

This is magnified when extended to share data externally, and generates further mutual value. For example, empowered with insights about their own data, the Google Adwords customer can better pick additional keywords and site types they want to appear on.

Benefits of Data Democracy in Practice

Now that you have the key ingredients, what should data democracy look like and how does it end up working in practice to provide business benefits?

There are three operational outcomes that enhance how an organization works after democratizing data access:

  1. Enabling Discovery
  2. Empowering Self-Service
  3. Enhancing Autonomy

Discovery

As always, to be successful at your job, you need to understand your business.

Having an organized and searchable catalog of data projects is paramount in enabling discovery. Gaining access to your organization’s data enables you to discover trends in ways you didn’t know you could, leading to more data-driven decision-making and enhancing operational performance.

For example, an enormous corporation like Walmart could utilize an index of all vendors they’ve worked or explored a relationship with. Armed with this data, an employee in procurement could then easily identify bad players and control costs. This type of extensive, discoverable business intelligence is what allows a company to function with lower prices while retaining margins.

Self-Service

The next step in the evolution of data democracy is the ability to derive and expand on existing data products in a self-service capacity. This means any individual employee can be empowered to ask new questions.

Our procurement friend can dig into pricing by cost or geography. Or, they may set up new queries for products trending in popularity within a certain region and seek new vendors there.

The same can also apply to services. For example, there is currently an explosion of demand in emergency store cleanings as stores reopen amidst a pandemic. When deciding who to hire, procurement can not only search for lower prices, but also which service providers work faster or are more responsive to emergency requests.

Thus, derivability is crucial in providing individual employees with a clearer picture of the data landscape and to pursue operational challenges from various angles. Democratizing data results in the possibility of more innovative approaches.

Autonomy

Once a team understands its business better through open access to data, they can bring that data into tools and technologies that they want to use. This allows for groups to determine which tools work best for themselves, without the need for large scale corporate IT bureaucracy.

For example, this could mean that one team uses a different procurement tool that is more popular in its locality, generating greater efficiencies for the region they’re located in. They can avoid being stuck with mandated tools that are not effective in a particular environment.

When it comes to ensuring stores are clean, safe, and well lit, a national giant like Walmart could give different regional procurement teams the option to work with commercial building management brokers or hire in-house technicians. With access to cost and performance data, they can decide for themselves which direction works best for them.

Takeaway: Unlock Value by Unlocking Your Data

Data democracy has the potential to bring considerable value to a company. Enabling business users to define their own information requirements, discover answers to their own questions, and create their own data tools can only enhance business processes such as marketing, sales, and procurement.

Non-technical and non-IT employees bring their specific business knowledge and insights to define BI and analytics requirements.

With the right ingredients and appropriate tools, data democracy allows all employees to become “citizen data scientists” that will help build solutions that meet the organization’s constantly evolving needs.

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How are you democratizing your data? What are your thoughts on the benefits, challenges, and requirements? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to learn more about unlocking your company’s potential, or just want to chat about data? Connect with me at dave@estuary.dev.

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