Not Just for the Data Scientists: The Need to Expand Data Access Across the Organization

by July 6, 2018

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing our world – from developing new cures to improving transportation systems. It’s also fueling myriad business successes – like tracking customers’ purchasing history to creating more targeted offers; generating insights that improve operational efficiencies; discovering the true influencers of buying decisions; or spotting business problems that would otherwise remain hidden. What use are all the investments in creating, storing, and protecting data if the right people can’t access and extract value from that data in a timely manner?


Lack of Access Impacts Operational Agility

According to industry studies, “…on average, less than half of an organization’s structured data is actively used in making decisions—and less than 1% of its unstructured data is analyzed or used at all.” As we all know, the more quickly and efficiently data is accessed and analyzed, the faster decision makers can respond to market changes. This translates into greater productivity, competitiveness, and more profitable outcomes. The big question is: for data to effectively serve business needs, who should be authorized to access it? In many companies, data access is still on a case-by-case basis instead of generally available.


Expanding Data Access: The Fears

Some experts decry the security risks involved in having employees across the organization access data they should not see. True, the wider the access to data, the bigger the security risk, and this is a challenge. Others question the ability of non-technical staff to accurately read and interpret data and fear the wrong decisions that may result. Still others express concerns that data distributed across various company teams, rather than siloed in one central data analytics group, would produce duplicate efforts, confusion, and added costs.


Expanding Data Access: The Advantages

On the other hand, what is the point of having a “data-driven culture” as many companies claim they want to be, if data access is restricted? As data becomes ever more critical to your business’ strategic success, you need to consider the ways to expand data access – making data available and analytics deployable across the company. There’s enough data-access governance software available to ensure that this is manageable and more secure.

Let us be clear. No one’s saying employees should have access to data they do not need to do their jobs or sensitive data that’s for C-level executives’ eyes only. But granting employee access to job-relevant data rather than confining it to the data analytics team would help organizations:

•  Hasten product development cycles
•  Stay ahead of competition by getting insights faster
•  Empower individual employees to take responsibility of their own decision making
•  Reduce data analysts’ backlog by enabling individual teams (marketing, sales, customer service, etc.) to answer many of their data questions themselves
•  Bring together diverse teams and departments and unite them around the company’s core mission
•  Help employees measure and track their performance vis-a-vis the business objectives
•  Benefit from different insights of the same data: finance may see ways to cut spending, product development may see improvement opportunities, marketing and sales may see ways to use the data to drive customer acquisition and retention


Expanding Data Access: The Best Way To Do It

The idea is to remove the barriers that stand in the way of non-technical people who need to access and understand the data. Technical innovations are now available to achieve just this, including security-enhanced cloud storage as an answer to data silos, BI applications that use machines to explain data to non-technical users, and data virtualization software that avoids the need to clean up data inconsistencies.

It also helps to determine who in the organization can benefit from data. Marketing uses data to to make informed budgeting decisions, predict market conditions, and create and improve future campaigns. Advertising teams need to ensure their efforts get the desired ROI and expedite repeat business. Sales uses it to identify potential high-value customers and provide potential clients with real stats and examples. The content marketing team can leverage the data analysis of downloads and site traffic patterns to produce more engaging materials tailored to audience interests. Product design needs data access to better understand what consumers want. Of course, C-suite execs use data to make more informed corporate decisions.

Security is always a primary concern. By identifying sensitive data, establishing a robust data security policy, performing regular data backups, and taking other security steps, companies will go a long way in safeguarding their most vital assets. A great example of a security precaution that still provides data access is to give read-only permissions – this provides users with data access while preventing them from modifying files.

Data and data analysis play a critical role in making smart business decisions and keeping a competitive edge. Expanding data access across the organization speeds up time to insight, encourages collaboration, empowers employees, and creates a truly data-driven culture.