How to eliminate functional silos and drive data democratization for a data-driven organization?

The regional Sales Team of an FMCG company was having a hard time figuring out why sales of a particular product was declining in their part of the geography. Especially, at a time when the neighboring region was reporting growth.

When they finally got access to the numbers, they realized that there was a glitch in the pricing of the product in their location. The whole ordeal of getting to this insight was exhausting. 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.

This issue pervades the entire enterprise, irrespective of the hierarchy flow.

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.

The general thinking is ‘data belongs to the one who collects and manages it.’ Teams are highly protective and sensitive about the numbers and insights that they acquire. This centralization of data decelerates the success of an organization.

And that’s why lot of businesses have put data democratizations on their top priority list. Gartner identifies this concept as one of the top 10 strategic tech trends.

What is Data Democratization? Why is it important for an organization?

It’s simple – it emphasizes on the universality of data – data is for everyone. Data democratization suggests that anyone can access and use ‘relevant’ data without having to go through data stewards or gatekeepers. This leads to informed decision making at every level, in every function for every individual. In an ideal situation, that means an aware and empowered workforce for a business.

That being said, there is still a huge section of corporate society that believes that data belongs to only a few and that nothing should change in the way it’s distributed. The opponents of this concept worry about data being misinterpreted, duplication of efforts and data security being put at risk as some of the reasons for their stand. These are valid concerns, but none of these is non-fixable. Infact careful administration to these parameters ensure the construct of a successful data-driven organization. CIOs and CDOs must find a balance between needs and challenges of freely accessible data. Now, I am folding the page here for the sake of the topic, and we will discuss more about it in our upcoming blogs.

Data democratization is not an option, it’s the way to be. Of recent, there has been a lot of buzz around the topic. But when it comes to actual practice, we are only scratching the surface.

In its absence, a lot of productive time is lost, decisions are delayed, and performance is compromised. “Employees spend more than 25% of their time searching for the information they need to do their jobs… Within a typical company, the average employee needs to navigate four or more applications to execute a single business process” – Economic Times.

And that’s not it, many a time, ‘relevant’ data is not even accessible. Employees are often lost in the piles of bad, irrelevant data. Acc. to a PwC study, “Up to 35% of a company’s lost revenue is attributable to bad data.”

Moreover, often when the data is available, it’s unfathomable. People need to channel this data through IT/BA teams to draw out insights. Not only does it limit the use of right information at the right time, it also discourages data-driven decision-making among employees.

One of the biggest deterrents of data democratization is existence of ‘functional silos’ in the organization.

How do functional silos hinder Data Democratization? And what should leaders do to eliminate these silos from systems?

Different departments are treated as different entities in the organizations and the boundaries among them get more and more prominent as the size of the organization increases. Information is restricted to the concerned departments where it originates from, as every department is operating in exclusivity.

Within the same organization, financial analysts, HR specialists, marketing teams, all are using different technologies and the insights do not flow from one team to another. So, every team is actually working in isolation. The marketing team is focusing on problems that don’t even exist for the sales team. The HR team is lining up interviews, but the product team has already gotten an internal reference. Imagine the loss of time, cost, resources, talent!

Data sharing allows much-needed conversations amongst teams.

Leaders must take the responsibility of encouraging fluidity when it comes to data sharing across the enterprise. The idea is to focus on goals over functions.

“Leaders need to promote open data sharing across functions and foster a constructive environment for using it without getting territorial. Yes, put in the necessary access control on sensitive information. But data needs to be treated as an organizational asset just like the coffee machine in the cafeteria. Harmonized data masters across functions is perhaps the biggest initiative being driven today by CIOs across industries today and rightfully so.”

– Ravi Shanker, CEO @ Decision Point.

Truth be told, it’s a long way from centralization to decentralization to democratization of data. But the longer we wait, the more we delay success.

Data democratization, as a concept and practice, ensures that data is pulled out of silos and is fairly distributed to everyone in the system with the help of technologies.

There are many tools that facilitate cross-collaboration like MS Teams and Slack, but they have functional limitations w.r.t. data storage and analysis.  New age BI tools like Beagle, integrate with these tools and foster data collaboration.

  • Beagle allows single source of data for everyone, making it simpler to access and understand data.
  • The tool ensures consistency and harmony in the quality of data – no data is bad data.
  • Beagle makes it super easy to ask and find ‘relevant’ reports within MS Teams or Slack.
  • It also ensures that data is super easy to understand. The tool presents data in ‘ready-to-use’ formats.
  • It allows simple sharing of data within and across teams for real-time collaboration.

The list goes on, but you get the drift.

Data democratization is a function of culture and technology, success of both depends on each other. CIOs and CDOs must focus on enabling an agile workforce, by building a data ecosystem in the organization. That takes us back to where we began – break functional silos and help data reach the end-users without the barriers that prevent them from finding or understanding data for use.