The difference between a successful, always innovating company and a struggling one that is being left behind is how they use data to support their business decisions. In fact, Gartner says that top businesses in any industry are using data and analytics to gain an edge over their competitors.
What’s more, these businesses are not only using data to usher in their digital transformation, but they are also taking steps to ensure data accessibility for all departments and team members. But how do you facilitate data accessibility?
The short answer is: You should have a data management strategy.
Most companies view data management as an afterthought. Others have the mistaken notion that data will only take away their time and resources as they continually gather, analyze, and store huge amounts of data day in and day out.
With a data management strategy, the way you view data changes. Data management becomes an important priority for your organization. As such, you will have an individual or team that is responsible for creating and implementing effective strategies and policies to manage your data.
But what is a data management strategy exactly? According to Tableau, it’s your company’s roadmap on how the organization will use data to achieve your objectives, goals, and targets. It guarantees that the collection, analysis, storage, collaboration, and just about any activity that has anything to do with data and its management, flows smoothly and effectively. An effective data management strategy enables companies to derive actionable insights from their data, while also streamlining data governance.
Having a management strategy can help you sidestep some of the most common challenges when it comes to data, such as:
- Doing things that consume valuable resources and time but are not really that beneficial to the business.
- Duplicated, missing, or incompatible data from a variety of sources.
- Data silos, which make it difficult to share information from one department to another, with unnecessary costs and efforts expended on the same data.
If you’re ready to start getting more from your data and leveraging it to gain a competitive advantage, you need to ensure data accessibility. In this article, we’ll discuss five ways to make your data more accessible to every department.
1. Identify what your business needs are and how data can address these issues
To have a good data management strategy, you should first identify your organization’s objectives. With the influx of data, it’s very important to know your business goals and continuity plans so that you will know what types of information and insights are needed to meet these objectives.
Then you should create effective data processes that will involve methods to collect, prepare, analyze, and store data.
- Collection processes include identifying your sources, which will need access to data, and the use of structured or unstructured data. You will also need to know how the data should be collected and whether you will be extracting data manually or not.
- Preparation includes how you’re going to work on your data to make it ready for analysis. You will also need to know how to determine what data is incomplete or disparate, as well as put systems in place to name, document, and other categorization and organization tasks related to handling the data.
- Data analysis threshes out how you’ll allow users to access and analyze the data that your company maintains, as well as how to communicate insights to those who need them.
- Data storage addresses how your company keeps data, such as using relational databases or other file formats for structured data, coming up with data lakes for unstructured data, as well as how you will secure data when it’s not being used (known as data at rest).
2. Find the right technologies
When determining what your company should do with all the data that it generates or receives, you need to identify tools and technologies needed to carry out each process. Choose the right software and hardware to carry out your plans.
With the right tools, you get easily shareable data
There are tools you can use that can make data presentation and sharing easier. For instance, ShareThis’ Google Analytics Dashboard for WordPress is a plugin that brings data from Google Analytics to your WordPress-based website. It allows WordPress users to view reports from Google Analytics without leaving your WordPress dashboard. You can see visitor trends, including page views, bounce rate, and pages per session. You also can discover where your visitors are coming from, as well as the most viewed pages on your site.
Another useful feature is trending content, which allows you to see which of your pages are drawing in the most number of visitors. You can then leverage those insights to create more content or drive traffic to other pages. For instance, your writers can focus on creating the types of content (detailed guides, how-to articles, etc.) that resonate most with your audience to boost overall engagement on your blog or website. You can even let your marketing and sales personnel view the data for visitor- and customer-related insights. All that without having to login to your Google Analytics account in a separate browser tab.
Getting the right tools for data analysis: how to do it
There are a lot of options out there for programs, software, and tools that can crunch numbers and give you an easy way to understand and spot trends. The best data analytics tools for your business will largely depend on what you need and what types of analysis you will be doing. Here are a few essential questions to ask when evaluating data analysis tools:
a. Is it something that all departments can use? The entire organization should use the same tools. If you don’t standardize your analytics programs, your business will become fragmented, and a lot of data will go unused.
b. Research different tools that your employees are currently using. The best tools might be ones that are already used by your employees. Talk to stakeholders in various departments to know what analytics tools they are currently using and why they find them useful for their tasks and responsibilities. What’s more, you should figure out if these tools are used properly and if users can take full advantage of them. Tools that are not intuitive or cumbersome to use can hinder data accessibility. Do you have the time and resources to train other employees to use these tools?
Aside from taking stock of what tools your team is already using, you should also check out other data analysis tools currently available in the market. There are different classes of analytics tools, including:
- Report generating
- Semantic layer reporting
- Multidimensional expressions (MDX) or Cube query tools
- Business intelligence
- Data modeling and data science
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning
c. Create an inventory of tools currently being used. Make a capability tree that compares the tools your employees are already using with your analysis and data accessibility requirements. This process can help you see areas where you can improve and those in which you may have a head start.
d. Do a decision matrix. For each category of tools you’re considering, you can do a separate decision matrix. For instance, if you are choosing between two products for data science, you will want to consider the experience of your employees who have used these products in the past, as well as the things that you have discovered from your own research.
e. Use a decision tool. Combining the capability tree and decision matrix, you can now decide which software solutions and technologies to implement to support your data accessibility needs.
This process may seem time-consuming, but it’s a worthwhile effort. The perfect software might be one that your employees are already using, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Plus, if you already have people on your team who know how to use a tool that meets your needs, it makes training your other employees easier.
Or you might discover that there are better technologies available out there, such as a tool that’s more efficient or user-friendly than one your team is using currently. Or, you may find an alternative solution that offers the best set of features for everyone.
3. Say no to data silos
Data silos are a problem for more than two in every ten companies, according to The State of Digital Customer Experience Survey, conducted by Simple Media and CMS Wire. What happens is that each department has its priorities and strategies in gathering, collecting, and using data they generate. For instance, your sales team might be keeping the same customer records as your marketing department. While it may seem like you’ve achieved data accessibility, the duplicated records can be problematic. It makes more sense for both departments to keep all customer-related data in one database and make it accessible to team members from both business functions. Doing so makes it easier to update information and avoid data discrepancies while also keeping costs down. You’ll also utilize fewer resources.
Data silos make it difficult for teams to find and access the information they need. When departments or team members aren’t able to access the data sets that they need to carry out tasks or inform decisions, it can slow down processes and prevent companies from getting the most value from their data. It can also make it frustrating and costly to extract data you need and use it for anything other than its intended purpose. For example, accounting may need to find another way to get customer details when they are locked out of the customer records kept by either marketing or sales.
Breaking down data silos is not an easy task. There are a few reasons why data silos, despite the havoc they wreak on your business and data initiatives, persist:
- Using software focused on specific functions rather than data sharing
- Organizational politics (one department may be unwilling to share data and the insights gained from it)
- Incompatible systems or vendor lock-in
So, what can you do to break down data silos? The easiest way is to set up a data lake where you can store all data your business generates in one system, but that can be a challenge. Harvard Business Review recommends showing the entire organization what data silos can do and what your business can do when data is shared. You can identify business needs that can be solved or processes that can be improved with better data accessibility.
Breaking down data silos is easier said than done, but if you succeed, you can look forward to being a data-driven organization and being able to make every piece of data, every record, accessible to all departments and stakeholders in your company.
4. Data governance
Having the right kind of insights from the right kind of data can make or break your company. It’s the difference between leaving the competition in the dust and losing business. However, data accessibility is also a big responsibility, and you should establish data governance policies that will ensure the proper use of your company’s data.
Data governance addresses:
- Security: How to securely store data
- Quality: How to guarantee that the data you have is complete, current, and accurate
- Transparency: An ethical data environment is a must
- Data privacy: Ensuring that you have express permission to gather and utilize data
According to CIO, data governance is defining who in your business has the control and authority over data assets and how data may be used by employees. Data governance involves the technologies, processes, and people necessary to protect and manage your data.
Your goal in implementing a data governance plan is to:
- Minimize and manage risks involved with data
- Create rules for your employees’ use of data
- Make it easier for your business to comply with federal and regulatory rules
- Increase data’s value
- Improve communication involving data
- Lower costs
Data governance allows you to implement business-wide changes that can make data and the insights it provides available to everyone in your organization. It also gives rise to clear rules for the use of this data, while reducing data management costs. Moreover, data governance ensures quality, documentation, and processes.
What are the tools you can use for your data governance initiatives? There are a lot, but some of the best-known are:
- SAS Data Management
- Collibra Data Governance
- Informatica Axom
- Varonis Data Governance Suite
- SAP Data Hub
- IBM Data Governance
- Alation Data Catalog
- Unifi Data Platform
Securing your data
While the goal is to make data available to all departments, that doesn’t mean that you can get away with not securing it. Data is an asset, much like a piece of machinery or your inventory of goods. You wouldn’t want anybody to steal that equipment or your inventory, would you?
The same goes for data. A huge part of data governance is knowing how to secure your data. There are several rather simple methods that can improve data security, including having a strong password policy, physically securing devices and hardware where data lives, or using antivirus, firewalls, and other software to do the job.
You should also teach employees how to be safer online, such as instructing them on how to detect phishing or social engineering scams. Lastly, data security should also involve backups and other methods to ensure business continuity even in a disaster.
5. Training and execution
Because not every employee in your company is a data scientist, you will need to train them on the value of data, why it’s important to gather it, and what insights can be gained from it. In short, you should be able to sell the use of data to every employee and stakeholder in the company. You also need to train employees on how to use the tools and technologies that are available to them so that they can work with your data with ease.
According to Gartner, half of organizations in 2020 do not have sufficient data literacy and AI skills. Without data literacy, it doesn’t matter how good your data technologies and tools are, you will not succeed in using data to gain valuable insights – even if you ensure widespread data accessibility.
Gartner defines data literacy as the ability to write, read, and then communicate data. It involves knowing how data is sourced, used, and processed, as well as the use cases and value of that data.
Ensuring data accessibility across your organization
Data is like a knowledge base that your employees can benefit from, and if they use it correctly, it can have significant benefits for your business. Making sure everyone understands the capabilities of your data and how to communicate their data-driven ideas, while providing them with the right tools to improve data accessibility and make it easier to work with data, should be a priority for all businesses today.
Originally published Jul 14, 2020, updated Sep 01, 2021