Data Democratization – 3 Myths holding the CIO Agenda on the backburner since forever.

This is the 4th leaders meet since the financial year started. As they opened the business agenda presentation, data democratization is again on the top of the list. And yet again, the topic is put on hold till the next meeting. It’s on the ‘let’s get back to it next time on priority’ priority bracket.

You will find as many pages on the significance of Data Democratization as many zeros in the term – Googol. And yet, it takes a backfoot in every business meeting. Why is that?

In a conversation about encouraging all hands-on data, a leader remarked, “I don’t believe in data democratization. There are people who need to access data (the power users) and there are people who do not need data all the time (the business users). We need to be mindful of that divide. It’s as simple as that.”

It wasn’t surprising to hear that. There are many reservations when it comes to data being available to everyone in the organization. Data democratization is a concept that exists more in theory than in practice.

Many leaders are more comfortable finding alternatives around it than fixing the real issues. No matter how many technologies emerge to facilitate data access, unless leaders make it a serious business priority, employees and business will continue to suffer the consequences of misinformed decisions.

Breaking a few stereotypes that prevent leaders from taking the next step towards data democratization –

Myth #1: Data Democratization is a time intensive process.

Only when the foundation is not set, and the purpose is not clearly defined.

Many business leaders make the mistake of going all in, in terms of investment and process, before they realize that intent and investment need thought-through action and direction.

In a Survey by NewVantage Partners, with the world’s top corporations including American Express, Ford Motor Co., General Electric and Johnson & Johnson, leaders admitted that they weren’t where they wanted to be on the road to data democratization.

53% of the respondents said they were not yet treating data as a business asset. And 93% of participants cited people as holding back the progress of digital democratization.

Data Democratization is one of the most efficient goals to achieve, if planned well.

  • Define the purpose of Data Democratization – The ‘Why should we do it part’. Why is it important for teams and individuals? What business struggle can this sort out? More importantly, what business problems will continue to persist if data is not democratized? Establish the purpose and identify use cases.
  • Granularize the Purpose in action-oriented goals – The ‘Where to begin’ part. Once the bigger picture has been established, work on the details and the timelines. What are immediate gaps that need to be filled and how do they affect the business top line and bottom line? Quantify the goals here.
  • Invest in the ‘appropriate’ technology – The ‘How to do it’ part. There is a deluge of AI-enabled technologies that confuse people with big claims. But there is no point investing in tools that would cost more than would bring returns. Companies are investing in cloud and data warehouses, but that’s not enough until the data reaches end users in formats that they need in.

“Data users shouldn’t have to become data scientists to benefit from data, they should have access to it in various forms to encourage consumption.” – CIO DIVE

So, understand who your target audience is and where they are. What are their challenges? Dig deeper into those challenges.

There are standard technologies that would cost more but would not plug in well with the contextual needs of the organization. There is where many BI investments fail.

Invest in technologies that will address the problems specific to your organization.

Let’s not make heavy investments, let’s make informed investments.

Myth #2: Data Democratization carries more risks than rewards.

Data misinterpretation, data security, data quality – leaders are more apprehensive of these threats than conscious of perks that data democratization brings to the table. The threats exist, there is no denying that. But they are to be considered to be challenges to be addressed mindfully, not the walls that can’t be jumped over.

The HR team of a financial advisory firm spends half of their working day extracting and communicating the status of candidates in pipeline, joining, on board and exiting the company than on actual hiring and engagement journey.

It was not only time consuming, it was also frustrating. All because the leadership was wary of putting data out there.

In another example, the sales team of an FMCG company was having a hard time diagnosing the reason of product sales decline in their part of the geography. Especially, at a time when the neighboring region was reporting growth. By the time they realized the main issue that pointed to wrong pricing, it was too late. If only they had gotten this information sooner, they could have capitalized on this time in a different, possibly more productive way.

There are so many glitches that go unsolved for long durations for the delay in cross-communication among different functions in the same organization.

Data Democratization is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. And it’s time to acknowledge that than living in a limbo forever.

Let us put it this way – The risks with right data in wrong hands and lack of data in the right hands are incomparable. Both are wrong options. And in order to cater to one, we cannot compromise the other.

Myth #3: Data Democratization disturbs organization’s culture.

We have huge volumes of data stored in various places in different formats – from social media to pocket diaries to emails and dashboards. But the problem is we have been hardwired to protect this data, from anyone lying outside the ‘defined’ circle of authority.

One of the reasons that action items in data democratization never move from backlog to current sprint is that leaders are protective of company’s culture.

But what they consider as a potential challenge is actually the strength of data democratization. It impacts the culture in a huge way, but only to the benefit of organization.

It will be difficult for people using Excel to switch over to an app to get insights. It’s not intuitive. But any constructive change starts with disruptions. Democratizing data paves way for new elements of culture. That’s the magic of it, you have opportunity to dissolve the unproductive culture elements and design more effective one by rewarding people who use data.

The future is all-inclusive. Or there is no future.

Think about the biggest invention in the world till date.

Let’s take for an example – wheels. Now imagine if someone decided wheels could only be used by only a few. Where the world would be right now – if only a few, proficient with the science of wheels’ could travel on wheels.

There is no point discovering something if that can’t be used by people who need to use it. That’s the exact science and theory with data. There is no point churning it, if people who need it can’t find and understand it.

Discuss Data Democratization as the first thing in the next leaders meet. It’s more important now than ever.