Data democratization starts at the top

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With four in five customers saying that experience with a company is as important as its products and services, organizations are understandably focused on getting information into the hands of the people closest to the markets and customers they serve. This “data democratization” process requires orchestration between senior executives, business managers and IT to ensure that the right data is used for the right purposes.

Leading with CX

Success with data democratization — a key aspect of a modern data foundation — is about setting goals that are meaningful to the business. A good place to start, therefore, is with CX, a dynamic that is now considered the most important factor in brand differentiation.  Focusing on customers not only has a direct bottom-line impact, but it also gets people from across the organization pulling in the same direction.

“Experiences should be personalized, anticipatory and relevant,” says Janet Balis, Customer and Growth Market Leader and Marketing Practice Leader at EY Americas. “Silos stand in the way of that.”

The right data will help marketing teams examine such factors as correlations between the content they provide to customers and their behaviors. E-commerce teams can use behavioral and other data to look for factors that help determine why a visitor abandons a shopping cart, for example. But, it is critical that the way data is presented is holistic and looks at the analytical story end to end, from the consumer or customer perspective, at every stage of their journey.

“A lot of these capabilities have been around for a while, and now it’s about how you refine them,” says Fran Exley, Digital Strategy and Transformation Co-leader at EY Americas. “We have to use more of the data that we can capture in the middle of an experience — not just before or after — to get a better appreciation of how long it takes them to do something.”

Balis calls these “moments that matter.” They are the key elements of the customer experience or journey that determine the actions they take — and ultimately the products or service they purchase and the relationship they have with a company. “It’s not about prioritizing every moment, but the handful that make a difference,” she says. It’s all part of the process of shifting your perspective “from rearview metrics to always-on metrics.”

Modernizing the data foundation

A critical step in capturing these moments that matter involves classifying the data you have across all customer touch points to assess its potential uses. In addition, it’s important to identify which uncaptured data elements would be useful to business stakeholders and to devise a strategy for obtaining them.

In most large organizations, these data elements are scattered across the business and may live in everything from spreadsheets, to the core financial systems, to CRM systems. It’s essential to break down those silos to get a clear picture of what data the organization has, and where any gaps exist.

That can only be accomplished with the active support of top executives. “Senior leaders are responsible for democratizing data and setting an example,” says Exley. “We see success when they lead by example and use the same information as everybody else and shut down rogue spreadsheets.”

It’s tempting to let a hundred flowers bloom, but spreading analytic dashboards far and wide can create more chaos than insight. Users need to clearly understand what data is available to them, where it comes from and how it can be used. “It’s not about random experimentation; it’s about being deliberate and purposeful,” says Balis. “And we have to make sure that we really understand how an end user will put the data to use to drive decisions and, even more importantly, action.

Human-centric design

As we think about democratizing data, a certain degree of requisite data literacy will be required in the organization. Often, HR or people leaders should be engaged to ensure that there is a concerted plan for upgrading skills around storytelling with data, interpreting dashboards and driving stronger data visualization.

The most important design principle for data consumption is to think from the user’s perspective around how it fits into the user’s real workflows. The interfaces should be intuitive and navigable, seamlessly integrating into processes that people have as part of their roles. “To state the obvious, democratization of data will not happen if dashboards are created and no one knows how to put them to practical use,” Balis says. “So we have to put people, not technology, at the core of the approach.”

Allies, not gatekeepers

IT leaders should step cautiously through this process so that they are perceived as allies to the ultimate users of the data and not gatekeepers. Their resources are best deployed to help users acquire needed data and ensure that it is accurate and complete.

A good IT practice is to create a data fabric to improve connectedness and opportunities for users to get the data they need. In a data fabric, data owners host and serve their own datasets, instead of flowing them into a central repository. Data is exposed and made discoverable so that anyone in the organization can tap into it. In this way, data stays close to the groups that are most invested in it, while others can find and use it without time-consuming and duplicative intermediate stages.

A data fabric permits an organization to “embrace a more distributed approach,” says Balis, “so we worry less about the location of the data and focus more on the analytical connectedness and the opportunities to understand what it means.”

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.