Technology is today’s golden egg in that it continually yields new efficiencies, ways of working, and innovations. However, with technology comes data, and the volume, variety, and velocity of it are only accelerating. In many companies or agencies, people put this data into silos that essentially mirror the different departments and functions the organization has — limiting its value. These data silos likely will never disappear completely, but for real progress, businesses must embrace intentional data democratization.
Why Data Silos Need a New Approach
In many instances, having certain data sets readily available for specific people in your organization means that those people have an easier time accessing and incorporating the information into their everyday workflow with minimal resistance or hurdles. In addition, there can be other reasons for a business to separate information out, such as security and privacy concerns or regulatory requirements. Data silos, thus, are here to stay.
At the same time, data silos are a holdover from a slower time when companies had more disparate systems and culture and where leaders processed, analyzed, and interpreted data differently without as many feedback sources, checks and balances, or technological tools. This old status quo is not aligned with a modern, data-driven culture and strategy where more people are expected to contribute to or apply the information. It can represent power, control, and secrecy in a way that divides the workforce and in some cases, can even encourage departments in large organizations to create a shadow IT department. These problems are at odds with the push for individual and group transparency, authenticity, and integrity.
The Logical Solution
To address the concerns data siloing brings without sacrificing the advantages they admittedly also have, leaders have a readily accessible solution — data democratization. This means that, even though the data silos might still exist, they are purposely connected. Data is managed where it resides but is shared across the business. All people in the organization have power over and access to the information. This enables the business to foster a more collaborative environment with a high value on accountability. By refusing to hold the data hostage, workers can feel more connected and, importantly for the bottom line, understand the full view of the information for better real-time decision making. The entire team has a single, consistent version of the truth to rely on, making it easier for everyone to align for business results and understand everyone’s value and contribution.
Creating an Environment Where Data Democratization Works
Even though data democratization can help companies work with existing data silos in a more feasible, contemporary way, there are challenges to becoming a data-driven enterprise. The biggest of these, for many enterprises, is the resistance of the culture. People can get used to working within specific boundaries or roles and may not have had the opportunity to be in environments where trust and cross-functional accountability are the standard.
As a result, as a leader, you have to get on board right away. Think critically about your operations as well as how workers are classified or placed in the business, so you have a clear concept of how each employee can benefit from data access and control. Make intentional changes to shift worker attitudes and achieve organizational alignment.
Technology presents its own hurdle. Data democratization can require reworking existing infrastructures, which takes serious financial evaluation. Even if you can make the changes affordably, don’t assume workers will be able to jump in right out of the gate. They typically will require at least basic training or education to understand what data and technologies are available and how to use them the right way. Create a data governance framework and give clear guidance on what is and is not allowed, what the proper procedures are, and who to go to for technical support. Then, allow people sufficient time to become proficient in the new processes and technologies you incorporate.
Third, acknowledge that not all data is good data. If you put filler information in (i.e., have inaccurate or irrelevant information), then you’ll get filler information out (i.e., achieve poor results). So, prioritize data integrity. Scrutinize and scrub the information, so you know the data is trustworthy and has value and analyze it from multiple angles to make sure you and the broader team agree and understand the interpretation of the data.
Lastly, your data strategy cannot be constant, as new tools and ways of doing things are always evolving. Instead, develop an evolving data strategy that directly supports the business strategy. If your business strategy shifts, the data strategy might need to, too.
For a Lasting Edge, Let Everyone Have Access
Moving toward data democratization does not require you to destroy or completely abandon your data silos or current systems, but it connects the dots. And if done well, it supports an elegant handoff of information between departments and functions that will deliver positive outcomes. The shift toward this approach must start with leadership, but you can reward your team for their sharing behaviors by aligning goals and establishing coordinated financial targets. Rethink your data. By letting everyone contribute and have access, you’ll have an edge that will last even as the world and business evolves.