What is data democratisation and how might it benefit your organisation?

What is data democratisation and how might it benefit your organisation?

You may well have come across the term ‘data democratisation’ recently but, as a relatively new concept, perhaps you’re unsure what it means in practice and whether it might be relevant to your organisation. In this blog I’m going to explain what data democratisation is and talk about what it might look like in practice for organisations like yours.

It’s often said that “data is the new oil…” (originally penned by Clive Humby the mathematician and data scientist behind Tesco’s Clubcard). I also love another phrase which I found in a really interesting article on the subject “Data is the new plastic, because we create a lot, we struggle to know what to do with it and it tends to turn up in the wrong places”. Businesses are not set up to handle their own data, they literally don’t know what do with it.

Too often data is siloed away in organisations and the people who can really affect customer transformation aren’t able to do so effectively because they don’t have access to the data that they need. However, that doesn’t mean that you should just open access to all your data to everyone and consider that to be the end of the matter.

Data democratisation is often defined in a quite a simplistic way as just being about giving everyone in an organisation access to that organisation’s data, but true data democratisation isn’t just about giving people access to the data that they need in order to do their jobs but also ensuring that they have the skills and confidence they need in order to be able to work with that data and use it to drive effective decision making that ultimately builds better customer experiences.

In many organisations the data is ‘owned’ by the IT department, with any other department needing to go through the IT team in order to get access. This slows down decision making by creating bottlenecks and means that people are not empowered to use data effectively in their jobs. In contrast, data democratisation is about making sure that data can be accessed by the people who need to use it rather than being controlled by gatekeepers that create bottlenecks, and that those people have the skills needed to turn that data into knowledge.

Data democratisation requires culture change in most organisations

For this to happen there are several core principles that organisations need to embrace. Firstly, data democratisation needs to be seen as an ongoing process. It’s not something that just happens once and then it’s done. It’s something that happens over a period of time. In most organisations data democratisation will probably require a fairly comprehensive cultural change – simply changing processes and procedures is not going to be enough – and cultural change takes time.

Data democratisation is about empowering your employees

Secondly, data democratisation requires your employees to be empowered so that they feel able to ask data related questions and they have access to the right tools that they need in order to work with the data effectively.

There are several things that hold back the effective use of data in organisations.

So how do you address these issues? A good place to start is by addressing any skills shortages and training needs amongst your staff. It isn’t enough just to open up data access. Staff need to understand what data is being gathered and what that data looks like. They need to understand the significance of the data that’s being gathered. Why is it being tracked? How is it being stored? What format is it in?

Make sure people have access to the data that they need

You also need to think about who has access to what data. People need to access data in the format that’s most useful for them and this is likely to be different for different teams or individuals, depending on job role. Data democratisation certainly doesn’t mean giving everyone access to the raw data and we would never recommend doing that. Whilst some (probably a very few) people might work with the raw data, most people will need access to the data that’s relevant to them via a data warehouse or transformed into a visual dashboard or in some other analytics tool.

Make sure people are trained in the skills that they need

Additionally, you need to address differing levels of data literacy within your teams. Again, not everyone needs to be able to do everything. It’s important to work out who needs what and focus on skilling up in those areas. The skills needed to run data-driven marketing campaigns and accurately measure the results of those campaigns are different from the skills needed to build predictive customer scoring models. Not everyone needs the skills of a professional data scientist. Not everyone needs to be able to write SQL queries.  

Make sure your teams have access to the right tools for the job

It’s likely that most organisations will need a suite of data-specific tools and, once your organisation gets above a certain size, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to be able to find one tool that does everything that you need. You need tools that are designed for the specific jobs for which you need them. For the marketing team that might be a customer data platform. For the product development team perhaps it’s a product analytics tool. Take the time to understand the needs of different teams and to decide on the best tool for the job on a case-by-case basis.

Be aware of the risks
As I’ve mentioned before, data democratisation is most definitely not about simply allowing everyone in your organisation access to all your raw data. Any data democratisation programme needs to take into account the security issues associated with giving people access to data. It needs to be compliant with rules and regulations such as GDPR, or ISO27001. There’s also a risk of duplication of effort, where several different teams are effectively working on the same thing once due to a lack of central oversight of who is doing what.

For these reasons an effective data democratisation plan requires strong governance from the top in order to ensure that the data is carefully managed. The whole organisation needs training to understand what data is available and how it can be used to drive effective decision making in different teams whilst maintaining a view of the organisation’s central shared objectives.

Talk to us today

If you’d like advice on how your organisation might benefit from data democratisation give us a call today.