Data used to be the realm of the IT department, parcelled out to senior decision-makers via reports and complex tools and dashboards. But cloud computing, self-service business intelligence tools and data federation software mean that it’s become much easier to share data-driven insights across the business. As a result, more companies are talking about “democratising” data.

Democratising data is about giving people access to the data they need to do their jobs without having to ask IT or anyone else to generate a report for them. Most experts are at pains to stress that data democratisation doesn’t mean that every person in the business can access all of its data or that they all need to become data scientists.

It should mean, however, that there are no gatekeepers restricting access to data that could expedite decision-making and uncover opportunities for the business. Once more people have access to data, they are empowered to be more proactive in solving problems, can make faster decisions and can respond with more agility to changing business conditions.

According to a blog post from Nexus Integra, democratisation of data solves three challenges:

  • It provides wider access to information that would otherwise be trapped in a data lake, data warehouse or information silos.
  • It makes it easier for people to find the answers they need to improve processes.
  • It delivers actionable analysis and information that the average end-user can understand, not just technical professionals.

Barriers to data democratisation

Introducing data democratisation is a long-term project that requires companies to invest in technology and training. One of the major challenges businesses may face will be to break down data siloes and encourage gatekeepers to share their information with the rest of the business. Another lies in building data literacy in the business and fostering a culture of data-driven decision-making.

Writing for Forbes, Bernard Marr advocates taking a slow and steady approach to data democratisation: “Everyone in the organisation should be properly trained on how to best use the data to drive company initiatives and progress. Expect that data democratisation is an evolution, where each individual small win, when non-technical users gain insight because of accessing the data, adds up to ultimately prove the merits of data democratisation.”

Where to start 

Given the scale of the cultural change as well as the technology investment, most experts recommend easing the business into the world of democratised data. Data tool vendor, Secoda, suggests starting with tasks that offer the most business value rather than beginning in the team or department that gathers the most data.

Some quick wins could be standardising the KPIs across the organisation or creating a standard dashboard for every employee to access regarding important KPIs. Furthermore, Secoda says that throwing data at a problem won’t necessarily solve it. “As the amount of data and complexity of the problem increases, the probability of success decreases.” As such, start with simple projects.

Derek Steer in Forbes says that it’s important to keep processes and tools as simple as possible at the beginning. While people are getting trained up and becoming accustomed to running simple reports or interpreting basic dashboards themselves, analysts and data scientists should be on hand to help them. In time, users will be able to do more independently.

The journey towards data democratisation will be a long one, but there are opportunities to realise value along the way. One cautionary note though is that all data strategies must heed applicable legislation such as PoPIA and / or GDPR and whichever other guidelines may be applicable in your country. As the speed of change accelerates, data democratisation and a workforce empowered to make smart decisions, could well turn out to be a decisive competitive advantage for a business.