Power to the Marketers: Democratize the Data NOW!

Posted in Business Intelligence

We’ve seen it before. Companies squander great opportunities to realize economies of scale because they lack access to data beyond department walls. Data has become the lifeblood of effective marketing programs, and has become one of the most valuable commodities in strategic marketing. In this post we’ll explore data democratization for definitions and smart insight for today’s digital marketers.

Valuable Data Left Unshared

There are countless scenarios in which marketers find themselves unable to drive the results they need to deliver. In some instances, addressable audience data born from beautifully crafted brand messaging and sizable media buys never makes its way into the hands of performance marketers. Pure gold left buried in a hidden data mine.

Other marketers find themselves at the mercy of a notorious, power-hungry, self-appointed gatekeeper hoarding data as a power-play to maintain an internal competitive advantage. Information is power. In the wrong hands, though, the power of information can vanish.

In other instances, Customer Success Team or other client-facing teams may unknowingly hold back priceless customer intelligence data that marketers and sales teams could tap as they stand up their account-based marketing strategies. As a result, those strategies likely miss their full potential. These are just a few examples to illustrate the myriad data challenges confronting today’s marketer.

If only data were easily accessible to the right folks at the right time – and teams were educated on all available pertinent data. Organizations could make better decisions faster. In many instances, though, ignorance is not the primary barrier to data. Fear can be an even more insidious culprit.

What Is Data Democratization?
At its core, data democratization is about breaking down silos and making data available to all who need it, when they need it. The term itself can sound scary, as can some definitions.

Many forward-thinking organizations understand the value of data democratization, but with limits. Data democratization is not about wide open data access to absolutely everyone in an organization (which might be considered data socialism). The right data. The right people. The right time.

Unfortunately, a term like data democratization often slides its way into the lexicon of an organization without true comprehension of what it truly means. Lack of understanding blocks meaningful conversations about the topic. Don’t let semantics get in the way of how your business discusses this important concept. In this day and age, though, those who don’t embrace such disruption are subject to lose.

Why Is Data Democratization A Big Deal Now?
Data democratization is made possible, in large part, by advancement in technology. Key technologies in the democratization evolution include:

  • Cloud storage: Data needs a centralized place to live.
  • Virtualization: Information needs to be readily accessed and manipulated with fewer technical barriers overall. Virtualization is a data management approach, often considered an alternative to ETL (extract, transform and load) and data warehousing, that allows retrieval and manipulation of data without requiring technical details like formatting or actual location. In fact, technical information specific to the data is often hidden.
  • Database management systems: Data is sensitive and must be stored and managed carefully to prevent security risks through masking or encryption.
  • Data federation software: Aggregation of disparate data sources requires a virtual warehouse to allow for actual analysis.
  • Self-service Business Intelligence: BI is the non-techy end user’s best buddy, designed to make analysis easier through robust data visualization and exploration.

What are the barriers?
Information is power and can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Many companies fear a more free flow of data, because it could do more harm than good. What if the information is misinterpreted, because an employee is not analytically savvy or lacks appropriate tools to analyze data?

It’s frightening (and not at all smart) for an organization to open the floodgates of data to absolutely everyone. Beyond obvious concerns about data security, too many cooks in the kitchen rarely yield a good result. Duplicate efforts, turf wars and other conflicts get in the way.

Data democratization is really about finding the right mix, the right cooks in the right numbers. Organizations have to do more than change mindsets. They need an operational adjustment to culture and business process starting at the top. Done well, it could empower better decision making faster.

How Would This Apply In Your Business?
Lead or lose. It’s that simple. In far too many instances, organizations hold to old ways of working, such as having one person as a data gatekeeper. Limiting data-related decisions to one person or siloing data is SO yesterday – and it hurts.

In addition to democratization and busting silos, data often needs to be scrubbed of inconsistencies or transformed appropriately to be usable. These cumbersome and complex processes drain one of your most vital resources: time.

Do you see siloing happening in your own organization? What is the current process for organizing and sharing data? Is there an opportunity to improve your team’s output through data democratization? Do you see the potential upside for your business, but realize those points of resistance even more clearly?

Let’s look at some ideas for making your data democratization case to internal stakeholders.

Making your case for data democratization
Initiating dialogue and gaining buy-in for data democratization requires some thoughtful planning. Below are some ideas to consider prior to broaching the subject.

Identify stakeholders likely to advocate for data democratization

  • Identify stakeholders likely to be opposed and their friction points
  • Identify prerequisites and technical resources necessary to make it a reality. Where are the gaps?
  • Take inventory of all data sources along with what department(s) currently have access
  • Define exactly who needs access to what data
  • Clearly outline pros and cons
  • Establish security and governance measures which need to be planned for and addressed
  • Outline what hard costs that will need to be budgeted for
  • Define how success will be measured
  • How many data gatekeepers are there currently and who are they? Compliance, IT, Finance, marketing, sales, etc.

No matter the organization, there will inevitably be hurdles to overcome, whether political, technical or otherwise. It’s important to remember that empowering your team can allow them to make better decisions faster. Allowing more brains (and the right brains) into the mix to explore insight from the data can be a valuable differentiator from the competition. And remember, if it were easy everyone would be doing it. 🙂

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