opportunities and considerations of data democratization

When it comes to data accessibility or data democratization, there are those who believe that nothing should change while the rest believe it is time for data democratization to become the default state. To understand both of these views, here are the opportunities and considerations of data democratization.

The opportunities of data democratization: 

1. Empowers employees

One aspect that keeps being mentioned by proponents of data democratization is the fact that all working teams will gain a competitive advantage. If you think about it, when more people access the data and the quicker they do it, the faster they will be able to identify what their organization needs and enable the ability to make critical decisions quicker. Data democratization empowers any individual within all tiers of the organization to use data in their decision making. At the same time it opens up an appetite for employees to enhance their skills by wanting to learn more about data, data analytics, and data visualization, at the very least.

2. Promotes accountability

Who's responsible for the data in their organization? You might think: "it's always IT", or you might say "it depends". It depends on what aspects of data you are referring to, George. If you're taking about its infrastructure, the maintenance of databases, and the systems that they are housing data, that's IT. If you are talking about creating the data quality standards, that's data governance, if you're talking about developing reports using this data, that's Business Intelligence team. Ok, let's stop here. The truth is that a lot of the accountability over an organization's data is siloed, and for specific parts of this accountability, that makes sense. But with data democratization, everyone within the organization is enabled to take ownership and responsibility over the data because accountability is starting to reside with the user of the data. Data democratization makes it more obvious that we are all responsible for the quality of the data, its privacy and security.

3. Creates opportunities

Having the data accessible to other job functions besides the executives, analysts and IT roles, data democratization enables a more diverse set of skills and experiences to uncover answers and efficiencies that otherwise would have remained undiscovered. It creates opportunities to discover new business insights by having people with different expertise, skill sets, and most importantly, different business knowledge to get a fresh look and probably come up with things that the traditional job junctions couldn't see before.

4. Fosters an agile environment

Building on the previous point, if people that their primary job function is not working with data, in a non-data democratization environment, they would probably continue not to. But data democratization promotes a more agile environment and an entrepreneurial spirit where the same person can wear multiple hats. Kind of like being as part of a start-up with a handful of people where everyone needs to pick up other responsibilities besides their own. In our data democratization world, these other responsibilities would be related to data. For example, an HR manager would also be doing data analytics. And not data analytics for the entire organization, but data analytics with the data pertaining to their needs and business knowledge.

While a lot of business owners believe that data democratization is the way to go, there are still many who are weary of the following considerations.

Considerations of data democratization

1. Misusing the data

To those resisting data democratization, they believe that when non-technical employees access data, they will likely misinterpret it or even misuse it. So, this can lead to poor business decisions that can end up affecting the entire organization.

2. Creating data silos

There is a risk that when everyone has access to data is to create data silos, by copying this democratized data into separate repositories to be used for a specific purpose by an individual or a unit. It happens right now. Those that have access to data from a report, a dashboard, or a system such as a CRM or an ERP they can export it and create their own data silo that holds stale information. And I'm not talking about having access to the back-end data to these systems, but just having access to the data through front-end querying and exporting capabilities. Some tend to export this data into a spreadsheet and further work with that data, that way. What becomes challenging is when that data is not refreshed, but then information is still derived from it and decisions based on it. That brings us to the 3rd consideration...

3. Duplication of efforts

With data democratization comes a chance of creating duplicate efforts, inefficiencies and expensive redundant functions as multiple groups could each spend resources to extract the same data, prep the same data, slice and dice the data and of course, visualize and analyze it in the same way. If department A and department B are prepping the same data for the same purpose, they are duplicating that effort. Even if it's not for the same purpose, there will surely still be overlap in the same data needs and the efforts required to get there. 

4. No single source of truth

This is another unwanted consequence of having data silos. Because besides the duplication of efforts, there is a risk of not having a single source of truth for data, anymore. Especially when these data silos are starting to be maintained and when that data is augmented with other data sources. Soon enough, the organization starts having multiple mini data management eco-system that don't benefit from organization-wide endeavors on data quality, data security, privacy and much more. Plus, it creates multiple versions of the truth and the organizations as a whole starts losing trust and confidence in their data and decisions based on it.


The considerations mentioned so far are good to note and understand the risks that come with it. They also bring up the need to mitigate these risks, through tools for data integration, as well as data dictionaries, data catalog, and a business glossary

By the way, if you would like to know more on how to create and deliver an award-winning business glossary or if you just want to pick up those skills, check out this online course that's now available just for you.

Organizations should also start investing in data literacy skills for their employees, which includes a strong awareness of data privacy and security. In the end, we should focus on the benefits and opportunities that data democratization brings to the table while addressing its risks. What side of the fence do you sit on?

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About the author 

George Firican

George Firican is the Director of Data Governance and Business Intelligence at the University of British Columbia, which is ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. His passion for data led him towards award-winning program implementations in the data governance, data quality, and business intelligence fields. Due to his desire for continuous improvement and knowledge sharing, he founded LightsOnData, a website which offers free templates, definitions, best practices, articles and other useful resources to help with data governance and data management questions and challenges. He also has over twelve years of project management and business/technical analysis experience in the higher education, fundraising, software and web development, and e-commerce industries.

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