The Case of Data Democratization

ART01x - edited feature imageAll businesses, no matter the industry or focus, are completely inundated by data. After all, we live in a very competitive world and data can help everyone improve their business performance. One could also argue that with this abundance of data, there is also a rise of new technologies, frameworks, and methodologies which can help us process and interpret all this data.

What Is Data Democratization?

Simply put, data democratization means that everyone can access data freely. No one can prevent someone from accessing it and using it according to their needs and wants. To make this all possible, it is necessary that people who want to access data can do it easily, as well as understand the data effortlessly. After all, this is the new way that organizations can improve the decision-making process and discover new opportunities, while meeting their goals.

Speaking of goals, the main goal of data democratization is to have data freely and easily accessible to everyone. Also, people should clearly understand the data, without making incorrect assumptions, so they can make timely decisions.

One of the things that most readers probably remember is that not so long ago, data was restricted for use by IT departments only. The truth is that while the decisions about an organization were made by executives, business analysts, and marketing analysts, the data always came from the same place – the IT department. In fact, some business owners aren’t quite in favor of changing this department role. As much as we cherish and respect IT’s role, it should never be the bottleneck for an organization’s data needs.

Now that we are on the same page with what data democratization is, it is time to identify its pros and cons.

Data Democratization – The Pros

One aspect that keeps being mentioned by proponents of data democratization is the fact that all working teams will gain a competitive advantage. If you think about it, when more people access the data and the quicker they do it, the faster they will be able to identify what their organization needs and enable the ability to make critical decisions quicker. Not only that, but having the data accessible to other job functions besides the executives, analysts and IT roles, enables a more diverse set of skills and experiences to uncover answers and efficiencies that otherwise would have remained undiscovered.

Ultimately, when everyone within the business can access data, everyone should take responsibility for the organization’s future. So, all employees will embrace it and will, in most cases, be more productive and more engaged and loyal towards their organization.

Data Democratization – The Cons

While a lot of business owners believe that data democratization is the way to go, there are still many who believe this is the wrong path to go on. In their opinion, they understand that when non-technical employees access data, they will likely misinterpret it. So, this can lead to poor business decisions that can end up affecting the entire organization.

In addition to this, business owners who are against data democratization also state that it can affect the integrity of the data itself. After all, since everyone could access the data, this would increase the risk of exporting it and incorrectly transforming it.

While there are already some signs of progress made in terms of freely accessing the data in the last couple of years, the reality is that there are still many people who have difficulties accessing and even viewing it.

Besides, we just can’t ignore the fact that this kind of data accessibility brings a duplication of efforts. After all, with data democratization, we are not only making it available for everyone to make important business decisions, but potentially transform it, use it, and analyze it in the same way. So, the exact same efforts could be put in by different people, for the exact same result. This can ultimately represent a waste of effort and time.

Why Is Data Democratization A Popular Topic Nowadays?

While there are many different reasons why data democratization is a popular topic nowadays, the main one refers to the amount of data available. Also known as big data, there is more data available in many different formats and arriving through different vehicles.

Besides, it is also important to notice that the improvement of technology has allowed non-technical people to access and understand different data formats. Some of the most recent tech innovations include:

#1: Cloud Storage:

In the old days, companies had to use data silos to keep their data. However, with data democratization, companies are using the cloud to store all their data. This has the main benefit of increasing access to data. To use this type of storage, companies are also using different management security features to mask or encrypt data.

#2: Data Virtualization Software:

Simply put, data virtualization software not only retrieves but also manipulates data even when it doesn’t know any details about it. This ensures that there are no problems using data with different formats, as well as avoiding having to clean up inconsistencies in the data process.

#3: Self-Service BI Applications:

To ensure that even non-technical people can access data and perform data analyses, organizations are using self-service BI applications. With them, one can automate, or at least simplify, the visualization and data explanation, as well as analysis tasks.

#4: Data Federation Software:

As known, data can assume many different formats. However, to process and interpret it, data needs to be aggregated properly. And this is what this software does; without having to store the data itself, it only stores information about the data and its location.

Data Democratization Keeps Evolving

When one is considering data democratization, they need to ensure that their business can handle its governance and well as its management. So, in other ways, one needs to make sure that everyone who works within their organization has the training to use the data in the best possible way.

It is important to notice that not all employees may be willing to take that first step immediately. This is why it is necessary to include training, as well as give them the time and the incentive. Data democratization is a process, an evolution that can take some time.

Conclusion

In the opinion of many data enthusiasts, data democratization is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere. However, it is important that as a business leader and as someone who knows their organization inside and out, you must decide if the organization should embrace the benefits and risks of this type of data accessibility. While some industries don’t need to be concerned about specific types of data, others need to be particularly careful with the data disclosed and disseminated (for example, just think about health-care centers).

Ultimately, data democratization presents a wide range of benefits. Even though sharing data with non-technical people can lead to misunderstandings or even wrong business decisions, it is the responsibility of the business leader to ensure the appropriate training, information accessibility, decision review, and approval process are in place.

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About George Firican

George Firican is the director of data governance and business intelligence at the University of British Columbia. His innovative approach to data management received international recognition through award-winning program implementations in the data governance, data quality, and business intelligence fields. As a passionate advocate for the importance of data, he founded www.lightsondata.com, he is a frequent conference speaker, advises organizations about how to treat data as an asset, and shares practical takeaways on social media, industry sites, and in publications. He can be followed on Twitter (@georgefirican) or reached via email, or on LinkedIn.

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