5 Best Practices for Data Democratization

Executive Blog
Written by Monish Balasundaram, Head of Analytics, Amazon

Monish Balasundaram

Head of Analytics


APRIL 20, 2023

There is a common denominator among the most prolific and agile enterprises today, and it all stems from data - data that not only drives digital transformation, but also empowers every employee within the business to make the most informed decisions. Chief Data and Analytics Officers (CDAOs) are striving to enable data accessibility and self-service data models across their organizations, and they continue to name data democratization as a mission critical priority year over year.

In this Executive Blog, Monish Balasundaram, Head of Analytics at Amazon and Governing Body Member of the Dallas CDAO Community, shares insight into the value of data democratization and steps data and analytics leaders can take to see success and avoid pitfalls along their roadmap.

Today, data democratization is the engine that unlocks new growth and efficiency for a business. It enables the identification of new opportunities and improves the speed and accuracy of decision-making by removing bureaucratic and technical barriers. The best ideas and results emerge from collaborations between different teams who know their respective business areas well and, together, connect the dots.

Without widespread access to data, the knowledge that is accessible to each individual and team is fragmented. Solving problems resembles piecing together a puzzle where each team has a set of pieces that others do not have access to. Moreover, there are pieces that no one has access to because they are held by the gatekeepers.

The most concerning, and often overlooked, scenario is teams don’t even know that many other pieces exist, because they are not cataloged and searchable. In such a status quo, how can teams form a complete picture?

The Value of Data Democratization for CDAOs

For data and analytics leaders who provide appropriate data access, the benefits are substantial. Besides building a data-driven culture across the business, on a more granular level, data democratization frees up bandwidth for data and analytics teams and allows them to do more with less and allocate their time to higher value actions.

Currently, many data producers and analytics teams spend a significant portion of their time fielding data access and support tickets from business users, while almost all these requests could be automated.

Through data democratization, data and analytics teams have more bandwidth to develop new data products and services and lead early adoption of AI and other technologies that enable growth and scale for the organization."

5 Best Practices for Data Democratization

Execution of data democratization is complex, as it requires many components and viewpoints from stakeholders. Whether you’re just starting your data democratization journey or looking to make improvements, here are 5 best practices to see success and avoid common pitfalls:

  1. Clarity of Objective: Define the tenets of the data democratization initiative. A deployment and the product itself can take a path of its own as it progresses. Well-defined tenets are like a compass to self-steer the team in the right direction when they are off course.
  2. Program Management: Successful adoption of any big initiative requires support mechanisms post launch. A single threaded program owner is essential for adoption success. Initial and continuous training along with periodic surveys should be part of the post-launch program management tasks. Customer and stakeholder feedback should directly influence the future product development roadmap.
  3. Security & Compliance: Ensure compliance with all regional and federal regulations and internal company security protocols. Each data artifact should be properly cataloged and labeled. These labels should inform automated data read access to different employees based on their role and level. Many companies do not define these well which leads to either sensitive data being exposed to people who should not have access to them or all data is highly guarded which leads to multiple layers of redundant approval chains to access basic information.
  4.  Lead by Example: Employees prioritize what is important to their leaders. Leaders should use data to drive their discussions, celebrate democratization wins, reward people who leverage the tools and contribute feedback for product improvement.
  5. User Interface (UI) Design: Don’t underestimate UI design. Your suite of tools might be the most advanced or it could have the best AI framework to label data, but if you let engineers design UI and workflows, the initiative might not garner high adoption. Engineers design and build for backend efficiency. Some trade-offs are required to achieve a good balance in engineering design and UI design which leads to an elegant product and a positive user experience. Invest in UI to drive adoption.

Data Literacy and Training are Integral to Achieving Desired Outcomes

Data literacy and training is an overlooked but crucial component for data democratization success. Think back to when spreadsheets were first introduced and companies were adopting them at a rapid pace; imagine if no one invested in training their employees.Companies would have concluded that spreadsheets were not the right tool for their business. Similarly, when companies undertake data democratization initiatives, formal training and upskilling their people should be part of the roadmap.

The training curriculum should cover the internal tools that enable data discoverability, including how to search and discover the data they need and how to access that data. They need to be trained in basic SQL so that they can perform moderate to complex analysis before reaching out to the analytics team. The training should also emphasize the importance of collaboration with data producers and other business teams and provide internal tools and mechanisms to best achieve effective collaborations.

Only by investing in data literacy and training can companies ensure that their employees have the necessary skills and knowledge to fully leverage the power of democratized data.

Monish Balasundaram will be a featured speaker at the Dallas CDAO Executive Summit on June 6, 2023. Join your local CDAO community, and connect with like-minded C-level executives on mission critical topics, such as this, at one of our upcoming summits or programs.

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Amanda Baldwin

Content Marketing Manager at Evanta, a Gartner Company

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