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How to overcome the challenges of data democratization

Understand where data democratization challenges come from and follow our best practices to address them.
The world is awash in data. Global data volumes are increasing exponentially and are projected to reach nearly 200 zettabytes by 2025.
But despite this data deluge, most companies struggle to harness its full value. Information remains trapped in silos, unable to be leveraged effectively.
Allowing data to flow freely throughout an organization can go a long way toward realizing its full potential. This concept is known as data democratization — it’s rapidly gaining traction in a range of industries, and for good reason.
But the path towards achieving true data democratization is fraught with hurdles. Learn how to overcome these barriers by understanding where they come from and following our best practices for addressing them.

What is data democratization?

Data democratization is an organizational strategy in which even your least data-savvy people can incorporate regular data insight generation and usage into their roles.
Unfortunately, traditional corporate data infrastructures are anything but democratized. Data availability is restricted to a select few within an organization, usually IT staff and database administrators, and employees must submit requests to gain access to the data they need. 
What should be a simple task of pulling relevant information is instead a friction-laden, time-consuming ordeal. This can lead to a cascade of issues, including:
  • Missed opportunities: Valuable insights that could help marketing teams prevent customer churn or capitalize on interest in a new product remain locked away in data silos.
  • Slow decision-making: Employees must navigate a labyrinth of approvals to access the data they need.
  • Inefficient resource allocation: Data and IT professionals spend too much time on routine tasks like generating reports and fulfilling data requests, instead of focusing on more strategic work.
  • Limited collaboration: Data silos hinder collaboration between departments, preventing teams from sharing knowledge and insights effectively.
  • Reduced employee engagement: When employees feel excluded from the data conversation, it can lead to disengagement and lower morale.
Data democratization is all about breaking down the barriers that prevent business users from accessing, understanding, and using data in their work. Doing so reduces their reliance on IT and empowers them to make more data-driven decisions.
It sounds great on paper, but making your data freely accessible is not without its challenges.

Challenges in pursuit of data democratization

The data literacy gap

One of the biggest obstacles to data democratization is managing varying levels of data literacy across teams. Even if data is easily accessible, it won’t be of much use if users don’t know what to do with it.
Some employees lack the skills to interpret and analyze data effectively, while others may not have the confidence to use data analysis tools.
Here are some ways to level up your entire employee base:

Invest in comprehensive training

Implement data literacy programs that cater to different skill levels, from foundational courses for beginners to advanced analytics workshops for those with more experience.

Promote a culture of learning

Encourage continuous learning and development around data skills. Offer incentives for employees to improve their data literacy.

Provide user-friendly tools

Choose data analysis and visualization tools that are intuitive and easy to use, even for those without a technical background.

Data silos and infrastructure challenges

Before you can democratize your data, you should collect it in one place. It’s common for data to be scattered across disparate systems and departments, creating silos that hinder access and collaboration.
Outdated infrastructure and fragmented data sources force teams to waste valuable time manually collecting and consolidating information. Plus, without access to real-time metrics, decisions are based on stale information.
To lay the groundwork for data democratization, it’s crucial to address these infrastructure challenges head-on.

Build a data fabric architecture

Investing in modern data architectures, such as data fabrics or data meshes, can weave together disparate data sources, creating a unified and accessible view of your organization's information.

Upgrade legacy systems

Upgrading outdated technology is key to ensuring your data tools and processes work well together. This will make the move to a more open, accessible data environment a whole lot smoother.

Data quality and governance concerns

Data democratization hinges on the reliability and trustworthiness of the data itself. Inaccurate, inconsistent, or poorly secured data can easily lead decision-makers astray.
Consider the following strategies to fortify your datasets:

Drain your data swamp

Data quality issues can accumulate over time, resulting in a chaotic and disorganized “data swamp.” Address these issues by implementing data cleaning and quality control processes.

Establish data governance

Define roles, responsibilities, and processes for managing data throughout its lifecycle.

Prioritize data security and privacy

Implement stringent security measures to protect sensitive data and ensure compliance with relevant regulations (e.g., GDPR, CCPA).

Cost and resource constraints

Data democratization is a great long-term investment, but it typically comes with an upfront cost. Organizations must allocate resources for new technology, training, and potentially hiring additional data professionals.
Here are some ways to mitigate the financial burden:

Start small and scale

Begin with pilot projects focused on specific use cases or departments. As you tally up small wins, gradually expand the program.

Prioritize high-impact areas

Focus on areas where data democratization can deliver the most significant benefits.

Consider cloud-based solutions

Cloud-based data platforms can be more cost-effective than on-premises solutions, especially for smaller organizations.

Resistance to change and cultural barriers

Embracing data democratization can be a big change, and you may encounter pockets of resistance in your organization. This can come in many forms: Some teams may guard their data closely, while others might lack trust in an organization-wide data warehouse.
Resistance can be overcome with a few key steps:

Communicate the benefits

Before your data democratization effort begins in earnest, host sessions with employees that cover the advantages of data democratization for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole. Be open to questions and concerns they might have.

Lead by example

Once the effort is underway, senior leadership should actively embrace data-driven decision-making and encourage others to do the same.

Create a safe space for experimentation

Finally, encourage employees to explore data without fear of repercussions. Mistakes should be expected in the first several months and should be seen as a teaching opportunity rather than a cause for blame.

Don’t let your data go to waste

Historically, a lack of data held organizations back. But these days, most have more data than they know what to do with. The challenge is allowing it to flow freely and enable useful insights.
The rewards of data democratization are immense. With all the data they need at their fingertips, employees can make more informed decisions and unveil cross-functional insights that were previously hidden in data silos.
Read next: How to avoid SaaS data fragmentation

Understand more about data democratization.