The Benefits of Simplifying Data Access

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Click to learn more about author Philip On.

Data is one of the most valuable resources a company has, but for many it remains largely untapped. It’s stored in departmental silos, or because of overly complicated access, it remains locked behind the doors of data specialists. 

Access to data needs to be simplified so that more employees can get the data they need to make informed decisions. Employees should be able to explore data themselves without the fear of messing anything up. They should be able to test their hypotheses and just let data spark insights and generate discussion. 

There is a lot of power in simplifying something complicated like data and then opening it up to everyone. Harnessing a wide range of employee experiences by allowing them to explore their hypotheses with data could offer companies new perspectives on existing problems. This is what a group of scientists did when they developed a game called Foldit

Foldit is an experimental video game that enables citizen scientists to design new synthetic proteins. Scientists believe that a novel synthetic protein, like the ones being developed in the game, could one day become a blockbuster drug to cure cancer. The results so far, which have been published in one of science’s top journals, have been amazing. Scientists have been astonished by the high quality and diversity of molecules that these gamers are developing. 

This initiative sparked new scientific insights by giving people access to something complicated and letting them play around with it. Imagine if companies could do the same with their data. 

Close to 70% of companies report that they haven’t created a data-driven organization, and 53% aren’t treating data as a business asset. How can data become ingrained in the DNA of business if only a few people can access it and explore outcomes? 

Limited access to data means that employees need to request data from a specialist. Companies are often stuck with this self-inflicted bottleneck because they see data as a complicated number thing. Data is also perceived as something that employees shouldn’t mess around with if they don’t know what they’re doing. What if they duplicate or delete something important? 

Employees should be curious. They should have the ability to look up information that interests them. With access to relevant data, employees would be able to test their hypotheses and unlock insights.

Some of the companies we work with are tired of the inefficiencies that come with their employees having to ask for data. Typically, data specialists create all the queries based on request. These queries are complex and have precise requirements. Since the specialists retrieving the data aren’t usually the ones who will action it, they won’t be inclined to explore new leads that might arise during the process. Then once they send everything back, it’s difficult for the people receiving it to change anything. If they do, the whole process may need to be repeated.

There are tools available that can simplify access for everyone and provide isolated spaces that let people mess around with data and explore outcomes. But tools are just one part of the equation. New Facebook employees attend a two-week data camp to become more data literate. Training like this means people can begin to explore data themselves with confidence, and it provides the company with a common language to discuss problems and find data-proven solutions. 

Great tools and training will not only spark employee insights but free up specialists to work on higher-ROI problems, instead of simple data requests. Providing simple access to data will also require you to get your data environment in order. It will mean taking your data out of individual departments and centralizing it in one place so that everyone gets a clear overview of the company. You will also need to have one source of data truth that connects and updates seamlessly. If you want everyone to speak the same language, you can’t have two people discussing the “same” dataset but looking at different numbers.

Cleaning up your data environment and training your employees is a bit of work, but it’s worth it. It will speed up the entire organization by giving people simple access through one gateway and, more importantly, confidence in data. Employees will also get to learn by doing. In the end, you should be investing in your employees anyway. If you focus on making data readily available, you might be surprised by the creativity you unleash.

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