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Lessons from big data London


There were 150 seminars given at Big Data London, and lots of buzzwords and on-trend topics flying between the event theaters. But one theme kept coming up, from the technical talks to the business overviews and panel discussions: leaders should encourage data access and interaction across their entire organizations.

Encouraging an interest in business data is logical if we believe that data is an organization's most valuable asset. But this is difficult, particularly for legacy companies. Data exists, but in what form? What's available? What's its structure? How reliable is it? How easy to access? The information landscape is often disparate, with data stuck in silos generating dozens of disconnected reports that make it difficult and time consuming to find real value.

Data sat in the cloud means nothing unless you enable your employees to use it. A salesperson trying to create insights doesn't have time to check tens of different resources and reports to mine value from disconnected data streams.

The very fact that organizations have so few people engaging in data is the cause of a relatable BI dilemma: why is it so hard to get the data and insight you need to make informed business decisions?

Data curiosity within non-technical teams is often stifled by hesitation, lack of understanding, and confusion. This is because the notion of interacting with data implies to the uninitiated a steep learning curve, filled with impenetrable mathematics and statistics. Building a culture of data among employees can run head-on into this wall of fear.

So how can companies solve this? There are three factors to consider:

  • Data — the information itself, its lineage, structure, preparation and cleansing, storage, etc.
  • Distribution — making sure data is in the hands of the people who need it
  • Interaction — making sure employees can engage, drill down, and gain insights

Companies need to create a single and shared point of truth where end users and developers alike can search for and find data available to them. This builds trust in data quality, and creates consistency in a common model that becomes an interactive standard across your whole organization. If all your data sources have one access point your ability to create value is far greater than if they're scattered. A centralized platform ends the hundreds of varied reports and ensures that everyone can sing from the same hymn sheet regarding your company's data.

Data teams also need to be creative in presenting data-driven information to the wider organization. Email updates containing entertaining statistics with links back to a common dashboard allow everyone to understand and engage. Simple Slack bots that retrieve key metrics and graphs are another easy way to encourage employees to interact with reports and information.

Leaders should democratize data and employees' ability to discover and create insights, not because it's trendy but because it's effective.The idea that a data analyst is able to see everything and be the sole nexus of insights is foolish; employees on the ground in your organization should be empowered to make relevant discoveries. Establishing an open data culture in your organization where employees across functional areas can work together, and push discoveries up to business leadership allow companies to ultimately create more value from their data.

The best data strategies enable collaboration. A system that allows teams to see each others' work, share knowledge, and be able to start where someone else finished makes your organization more agile. Collective data curiosity avoids lost value from orphaned business problems, reduces decision-making errors and duplicated work, and encourages innovation and positive change.

We're at the beginning of the data age. We are empowered to improve our organizations by collecting and understanding data to advance processes and solutions. Growing and expanding the number of people with access to data, and empowering teams to explore and prepare it themselves is the best way to move forward in a digital world where data-driven decisions will be at the heart of every successful business.