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The pandemic cast a very long shadow over 2020. Fundamental changes — some temporary, some permanent — impacted virtually every quarter of the business world.

We saw a faster-than-predicted shift to the cloud as businesses scrambled to adapt to sudden changes. So much so that cloud spending rose 37% to $29 billion during the first quarter of 2020 alone, according to PWC.

This rapid adoption of cloud and hybrid deployments means that organisations have the opportunity to put data in the hands of more employees – not just senior decision-makers and data experts. Data, and universal access to it, are key for today’s companies to create new opportunities and unlock the value embedded within their organisation – all of which can positively impact a company’s top and bottom line.

In 2021, we expect to see a widespread drive across sectors to actively practice data democratisation and form new organisational behaviors. The improvement of data literacy programs and access to self-service analytics will also play an important role in making this a reality in the next year and beyond.

Power to the people

Data democratisation is now a common boardroom buzzword, but disappointingly few businesses are actually living and breathing its principles. 

According to author Bernard Marr, “data democratisation means that everybody has access to data and there are no gatekeepers that create a bottleneck at the gateway to the data. The goal is to have anybody use data at any time to make decisions with no barriers to access or understanding.”

True data democratisation pushes organisations to re-think and maybe even restructure, which often means driving a cultural change in order to realise the financial gain. It also means freeing information from the silos created by internal departmental data, customer data and external data, and expanding the data ecosystem

The need to make better and faster data-driven decisions enabled through rapid cloud adoption is becoming a catalyst for data democratisation, where we can expect to see organisations: 

  1. Increase access to consistent and secure data. Employees need to be able to access the data that they require, in compliance with GDPR and other regulatory frameworks, whenever they need it.
  2. Incentivise data sharing. For many organisations that are still going through a cultural change when it comes to prioritising data, there need to be rewards or motivations for using it – often tied to basing performance KPIs on data metrics.
  3. Make a more concerted effort to put insights into the hands of everyone. Democratising access to data allows every employee to sing from the same hymn sheet, providing common ground upon which everyone can understand the business decisions made.

Making data democratisation a reality in 2021

With that said, data democratisation demands more than just technological change. For many organisations earlier in the data journey, 2021 will be a year of continued investment in data literacy and organisational structures at a basic level. Businesses that are serious about maximising the value of their data will push to help employees of every seniority understand and utilise the data at their disposal to the best of their ability.

For one, that means enabling self-service analytics. Employees need to be able to access data independently as needed, and that means giving them the platform and the power to interact with data sources as and when. However, it’s not sufficient to let employees connect to a data source and start pulling findings on their own; they need a standardised approach. 

In most cases that will mean improved data literacy programs that offer employees the context and tools, they need to understand how to interact with and interpret data, helping them to treat, communicate and use data correctly. For most organisations that are only starting out on their data culture journey, this is simply a case of providing employees with the basics to ensure that people understand the principles of how to read, handle and examine data. Over time, these basics will form the basis of a more sophisticated, mature data culture.

Revolutions per second

A company that is embracing data democratisation is the digital banking alternative, Revolut. The UK fintech knows exactly how important data is to its success and reputation. It is an extremely data-driven company, maintaining around 800 dashboards and running around 100,000 SQL queries on a daily basis across the organisation.

By embracing analytics and implementing an improved data management foundation, Revolut was able to unlock the true value of its data. Queries that used to take hours are now completed in seconds, enabling self-serve data analytics for all employees across all business functions. This is despite data volumes increasing 20x over the past twelve months. 

The company wanted to ensure everyone has access to the data they need for their daily work in a simple and efficient manner. On top of this, the data science team uses the central database as a single point of truth, from which it can download real-time extracts and insights at any time. 

Revolut can now optimally analyse large datasets spanning several sources to assist in fraud detection, improving customer satisfaction, and financial reporting.

Data openness in healthcare

Not-for-profit healthcare provider Piedmont is another great data democratisation example. It has successfully turned a massive 555 billion data points into an actionable source of information for its employees. By replacing its data warehouse and its core data repository with a high-performance in-memory analytics database, it has opened up access to data to more decision-makers who are now much more informed and able to improve the running of the company.

Hospital care quality, operation outcomes, and patient satisfaction have all improved as a result of Piedmont transforming into a data-driven healthcare provider.

From the ground up

The scale, performance, and cost-effectiveness of the cloud are self-evident in the sector’s incredible growth in 2020. As technology matures and improves, these benefits will only increase.

In order to maximise these advantages, organisations need to seriously pursue the proper democratisation of data. By driving improvements in data literacy and handling across the entirety of the business, and rooting the decision-making process in data-based analysis, businesses in every industry will benefit from faster, more accurate, and better-justified decision-making.

By Helena Schwenk

Helena Schwenk is Market Insights/Intelligence Manager at Exasol. She specialises in technology trends, competitive landscapes, and go-to-market strategies and uses this knowledge to keep Exasol’s marketing, sales, and product management teams fully connected to the wider industry landscape.  Schwenk also works as an external spokesperson and writes and presents frequently on the issues, developments and dynamics impacting data analytics technology adoption. She has over 24 years experience working in the data analytics field, having spent 18 years as an industry analyst specialising in Big Data, Advanced Analytics and more latterly AI, as well as 6 years working as both a former data warehousing and BI practitioner.

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