The Value of Democratizing Data

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-07-30 Email Print this article Print
Democratizing Data

There's a growing need to put data to work at all levels of a company. The ability to democratize data increasingly determines a business' success or failure.

As organizations look to become more agile and competitive, all pathways lead to big data. However, the challenges and opportunities of putting data to work are growing exponentially.

It's no longer possible to rely on a select group of data scientists and analyst to pore over data sets. Big data initiatives must reach across an organization and beyond, touching employees at all levels of the enterprise, as well as business partners and contractors.

In fact, democratizing data is at the heart of digital business. Yet, "The concept hasn't been discussed much until recently," observes Scott Schlesinger, information management leader for the Americas at consulting firm E&Y. He believes that the idea of making data widely available is still in its infancy, but it is a critical piece of the puzzle moving forward.

"Today," he adds, "every department is beating up IT as they look for ways to amass new data and put existing data to work. The concept is percolating into the enterprise."

At the most basic level, data democratization means breaking down silos and providing access to data when and where it is needed at any given moment. It's all about building an IT platform that supports more agile and flexible decision making. Ultimately, Schlesinger says, "It is about generating value-added insights that create a better business framework."

"Today, high-performing companies recognize that data is a strategic asset and strive to adopt a data-driven culture," adds Brian McCarthy, managing director of Information and Analytics Strategy at Accenture. "Through data-based decisions, businesses can more effectively seek to achieve their desired business outcomes."

Going Beyond the Database

It's no secret that data sources have exploded over the last few years. Legacy data, point-of-sale (POS) data, social streams, sensors, machine-to-machine (M2M) data, RFID, beacons, and data generated from computers and mobile devices introduce new and improved ways to measure events, activities and processes.

The upshot? The velocity, volume and variety of data—often referred to as the three Vs—are accelerating and changing the business and IT landscape in profound ways. Smart organizations recognize that the goal is to make data "easily accessed and understood by the C-suite, functional managers and other business users so they can make more confident, insight-driven decisions to attain their goals," McCarthy points out.

One company racing toward this goal is Finish Line, an athletic apparel and footwear retailer with nearly 700 physical stores in 47 states, as well as an online presence.

"Data helps us figure out what our customers are asking for and what they want, how they are engaging with us through different channels, and how, ultimately, to run the business better," says Stephanie Bleymaier, director of digital personalization and loyalty. Increasingly, "Data drives decisions and helps us put the customer at the forefront of everything we do."

Finish Line uses predictive analytics from Smarter HQ to combine online and offline data sources and understand interaction points in a far more holistic way. Among other things, the company plugs in POS data, loyalty data, social streams and beacon data in order to get to one-to-one communication and up-sell to customers.

In addition, the same data sets are used throughout the organization to drive decision making. Finish Line pushes data out to stores to assist managers in areas such as displays and sales. It also uses the data within finance to understand key factors that drive the business and bottom-line results. It even uses the data to make real estate decisions.

"People have access to the appropriate data sets, and they can run queries as they require," Bleymaier explains.

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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