Insights Blog

Why data democratization is as easy as liberté, égalité, fraternité

Data democratization

In this blog, Exasol’s CTO Mathias Golombek discusses why data democratization should be your guiding principle for 2021. It covers:

– Why CTOs should welcome, not worry, about data democratization
– How data democratization can shape a business’ overarching data strategy
– Examples of textbook data democratization projects

When Maximilien Robespierre first uttered the now famous phrase “liberté, equalité, fraternité,” during the French Revolution, the concept of data democratization didn’t yet exist. In Robespierre’s speech, the phrase was intended to unite and inspire French revolutionaries with the three ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood.

However, for me these ideals pretty accurately convey a healthy mindset that businesses should adopt when thinking about how they manage, distribute and consume data within their teams.  

Some industry commentators have suggested that my Chief Technology Officer (CTO) peers are often the most critical and resistant to the shift towards a data-driven strategy and data democratization. Generalizing of course, not only can some struggle to see the ROI, they may also be uncomfortable at the idea of introducing new executive members – such as a CDO – to take responsibility for data. They can also be resistant to the idea of a data strategy driving technology procurement decisions, rather than technology being the basis of the solution.

As Exasol’s CTO, I’m keen to challenge these mindsets. In this two-part blog series, I aim to give CTOs the confidence to be more open to data democratization projects and the shift towards data-driven strategies. 

Starting your own data-driven revolution

Data democratization is now a common boardroom buzzword across various sectors. It was one of Gartner’s top 10 strategic technology trends for 2020 and will continue to be a huge topic for 2021. But disappointingly few businesses are actually living and breathing its principles.

Technology definition site TechTarget states that data democratization is the “ability for information in a digital format to be accessible to the average end user”. In other words, the goal of data democratization is to allow non-data specialists to be able to gather and analyze data without requiring help. In the spirit of Robespierre, it’s the freedom, equality and team culture that emerges from empowering every employee – not just the data scientists – to make decisions informed by data.

Data, and universal access to it, is key for today’s companies to create new opportunities and unlock the value embedded within their organization – all of which can positively impact a company’s top and bottom line. 

True data democratization pushes organizations to re-think and maybe even restructure, which often means driving a dramatic cultural change in order to realize financial gain. It also means freeing information from the silos created by internal departmental data, customer data and external data, and turning it into a borderless ecosystem of information.

The trouble is many companies aren’t that good at it.

Our research last year initially suggested senior decision-makers were confident that they were opening up access to data sufficiently. However, when we scratched a little deeper, we found almost half (46%) of respondents believed that data democratization wasn’t feasible for them. IT infrastructure challenges were cited by almost four out of five respondents as a blocker to democratizing data in their organization. Performance limitations, infrastructure constraints and bottlenecks are all standing in the way. 

What this tells us is that on a major scale around the world, many valuable insights aren’t being gathered quickly enough, projects are being stalled and the competitive edge is being lost.

Given this, it’s clear organizations must carefully consider which infrastructure deployment option gives them the freedom needed to effectively open up access to data. But the story doesn’t end once that decision has been made.

It’s vital to constantly monitor whether employees are able to work with the data at their disposal effectively. Is there sufficient data literacy within the business? Can colleagues get the insights they need from the data? Is there a need to increase the spread of data democratization within the organization even further?

When it comes to optimizing the success of your data strategy, data democratization is an important and key step in the process – and your company needs to get it right.

Learning from the leaders

With all this in mind, let me share a few examples of companies who are doing data democratization well. 

Revolut

First up is digital bank and Exasol customer Revolut. With more than 13 million users, the company maintains around 800 dashboards and runs around 100,000 SQL queries on a daily basis across its organization, using a multi-node Exasol cluster on Google Cloud Platform

By embracing analytics and implementing an improved data management foundation, Revolut was able to give every single one of its employees access to the data they need for their daily work in a simple and efficient manner, potentially unlocking significant value in the process.

Queries that used to take hours are now completed in seconds, enabling self-serve data analytics for all employees across all business functions. This is despite data volumes increasing 20x over the course of a year. On top of this, the Loading...data science team uses the central database as a single point of truth, from which it can download real-time extracts and insights at any time.

Revolut and its employees can now quickly analyze large datasets spanning several sources to assist in fraud detection, improve customer satisfaction and support financial reporting. Even its HR department regularly run queries against the database.

Piedmont

Not-for-profit healthcare provider Piedmont, also an Exasol customer, is another great data democratization example. It has successfully turned a massive 555 billion data points into an actionable source of information for its employees. By replacing its data warehouse and its core data repository with Exasol’s high-performance Loading...in-memory analytics database, it has opened up access to data to more decision-makers who are now much more informed and able to improve the running of the company.

Hospital care quality, operation outcomes, and patient satisfaction have all improved as a result of Piedmont transforming into a data driven healthcare provider.

Practical planning

For me, the examples I’ve chosen above clearly embody Robespierre’s ideals and reinforce data democratization’s fundamental premise that every employee – regardless of role or skill – be empowered to make decisions informed by data.

In part two of this blog, I’ll introduce the four steps to creating a data democratization program of your own. This will include the value of a CDO, building an overarching data strategy, how to educate employees in data and the getting the technology stack right. 

But, for now, au revoir and Vive la révolution!

Mathias Golombek is Exasol’s CTO. He joined in 2004 as a software developer, led the database optimization team and became a member of the executive board in 2013. Although Mathias is primarily responsible for Exasol’s technology, his most important role is to create a great environment in which smart people enjoy building powerful products.

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