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What Is Data Democratization? Explanation, Benefits, and Best Practices

Rob Vanderzyppe, Appian
March 9, 2023

When was the last time you had all the data you needed to make a business decision? 

Hopefully, it was today. But if it wasn’t, you’re not alone.

It’s increasingly difficult for people inside enterprise organizations to harness the power of their data. Even though good decisions are nearly impossible without good data, getting data into the right hands at the right time is easier said than done.

“The lack of data capabilities, in turn, limits organizations’ ability to create key outcomes such as growing sales, innovating, advancing customer experience, improving environmental sustainability and increasing internal efficiency.” (YouGov, 2022

A number of hurdles stand in the way of data-driven decision making. Yes, having a myriad of siloed data sources is a common challenge, but many organizations also struggle to get data to the right people at the right time and improve data literacy—and that’s where data democratization initiatives come into play. Let’s dive into what data democratization is and how it can help you and your organization become more data-driven.

[ Want to learn more about how to solve your data silo problems and speed up innovation? Get the eBook: The Data Fabric Advantage. ]

Data democratization definition. 

Data democratization is an enterprise initiative to improve data-driven decision making throughout an organization. There are two core tenants of data democratization: data access and data literacy. Both are simple in theory, difficult in practice.

Data access. 

Data access is about getting data to people and giving them the tools to explore and search for what they need. The first piece of that, getting data to people, is what most organizations associate with data democratization initiatives. Too often, key business functions are left without a 360-degree view of their business data. From lagging field operations charts to incomplete sales data, when business leaders lack information to make decisions, it can cost them a competitive edge in the market. Data democratization breaks down silos and promptly delivers data to the people who need it to make informed decisions.

Once data is being delivered to users, you need to provide those users with the analytics tools they need to explore the data on their own, outside of the standard data processes. These self-service tools enable even non-technical users to rapidly discover insights on their own, empowering them to use data more strategically in their everyday work.

Data literacy.

Data literacy is the ability to understand, analyze, interpret, and communicate with data. It involves the skills and knowledge required to effectively work with data, including reading and interpreting data visualizations. There are varying levels of data literacy across every organization. 

This part of data democratization is often overlooked. Data literacy should be a table-stakes skill that all employees must continue to develop and refine over time. Data literacy skills development should include learning how to use new software and technology as well as improving analytical thinking.

A data democratization effort can be undertaken all at once by an entire organization or in smaller phases, such as department-wide rollouts. One of the key things to remember about data democratization is that it is an ongoing process that should not have a specific end date.

[ Discover how you can eliminate data silos with an integrated data fabric: Watch our on-demand webinar. ]

Why is data democratization important? 

With such a wide-scale initiative, there needs to be key value delivery to ensure the juice is worth the squeeze, as the saying goes. Here are the top benefits you can expect from a data democratization initiative:

1. More data-driven decisions.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of data democratization is better decisions. Getting things right and making choices quickly sets you apart from competitors and helps sustain growth. There is no substitute for clean data in the right format for business leaders.

2. Improved customer experience.

Today, customer information is more plentiful than ever before. From usage of digital platforms, feedback, and histories of interactions with your organizations, this data is scattered across cloud-based and legacy systems. Part of data democratization is data unification, and with a 360-degree view of the customer, you’re sure to alleviate friction and pain points.

3. New insight discovery.

Opening up data access creates a collaborative environment where all team members feel empowered to answer their own data-related questions. Business users in larger organizations are very close to the data they collect. Giving them the analytics tools they need to surface their own insights can help unlock hidden business growth opportunities.

4. Scalability.

Data democratization is a unified effort to drive data-informed decisions and, in many cases, digital transformation. This effort is a centralizing force for data management and creates an architecture that allows you to scale data access and analysis capabilities up and down as demand and priorities change.

How do you manage security and governance?

If you want democracy, you must have governance. Data democratization efforts are no different. Without a centralized data management system, you’ll find yourself duplicating efforts across dozens of tools to ensure you are complying with rules and regulations. 

A broader data governance initiative needs to be in place before you can provide data access to multiple teams. This is where data fabrics can help provide a centralized hub for managing when, where, and how teams are able to access data. 

Data democratization and data fabrics.

There are many different data management and integration tools in the market that use technologies like data warehouses, data meshes, and data lakes. Data fabrics are emerging as one of the most intriguing of these technologies, not least because they provide a unified data model, centralized management, and data optimization capabilities. 

This makes data fabric an ideal technology to drive data democratization efforts. Getting the entire organization operating based on the same set of data gives you a single south of truth for all data analysis, access, and more.

Ways to improve data democratization at your organization.

One of the best ways to think about launching or improving these initiatives is via the people, process, and technology framework. Data fabric covers the technology piece, so now let’s talk about people and process..

People and data democratization. 

Individuals and organizations with strong data literacy skills are better equipped to make informed decisions, identify opportunities and trends, and solve complex problems. But it’s an ongoing process. As new technologies emerge and metrics change over time, you’ll need to train and retrain your staff. A growth mindset is key here. 

Process and data democratization.

While there should of course be standardized reports and dashboards generated on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis, you should also have a process and/or tools in place for ad hoc data analysis. Giving business users access to self-service analytics tools for data exploration can keep your organization agile and adaptable. 

Data democratization can transform the way you work.

Getting a complete data democratization initiative off the ground can be a game changer for your organization, taking you from bad choices to data-driven decisions that give your organization a competitive advantage in the market. 

But remember: simple doesn’t mean easy. The way you manage your people, processes, and technology needs to be strategic and continually optimized over time.

Want to learn more about how to solve your data silo problems and speed up innovation? Get the eBook: The Data Fabric Advantage.