The benefits and challenges of data democratisation

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Organisations of every size and type are grappling with the impacts of digitisation and the rise of the data economy. In this environment, IT leaders need to be business-focused enablers and strategic supporters of the board's mission, and no longer merely run a background maintenance function.

In hyper-competitive markets where new players can disrupt existing business models - even in sectors that have grown up over decades or centuries, such as banking, finance, manufacturing, retail, and transport - internal IT teams need to be responsive, agile, and nimble. They can no longer be obstacles to progress.

The new organisation

In many organisations, front-office development and back-office systems are being brought under the same organisational umbrella. Those IT teams are now expected to design and code new apps and services swiftly in support of a clear business need, while at the same time managing employees' authenticated access to enterprise applications, often from a variety of insecure personal devices.

But unless organisations are digital natives, having been born in the 21st Century world of mobility, device agnosticism, and low-friction, on-demand services, they will have a technology legacy from a very different world.

Departmental silos emerged in that old world, which was dominated by client/server technologies, on-premise enterprise applications, and monolithic grey boxes on desks. As a result, collaboration largely resided in meeting rooms and relied on good management and clear communications channels.

But that technology legacy - rooted in an age when people travelled to company headquarters to sit at their desks and use the leading technologies of the day - led to the existence of an entrenched organisational legacy too: departmental fiefdoms, office politics, and Chinese whispers. As a result, clear communication channels may not exist.

The new leaders

Hierarchical, command-and-control types of organisation have some advantages - if led strongly and coherently from the top with a mission that everyone understands and buys into. But they rely as much on the personality of a key individual as they do on data and analytics.

If that person leaves, then those enterprises may find themselves adrift and lacking in vision. Only data about how the business is really doing - or could be doing - can bridge that divide.

Good, decisive leaders are certainly not irrelevant in the 2020s - arguably they are more vital than ever - but the skills they need are subtly different.

Good leaders now have to understand the democratisation of data and the flattening of organisational structures, and enable teams to collaborate across departmental divides. Good leaders should move the organisation forward, guided by accurate data and in-depth analytics.

However, it is tough to ‘bolt' data democratisation, teamwork, and a flat organisational structure onto a traditional top-down enterprise, as the two approaches may be radically different - or even alien to each other.

Data insights

Computing Research surveyed 150 decision makers representing organisations from a wide variety of industries, including banking, finance, logistics, manufacturing, retail and the government, to determine how well they are extracting valuable insights from the mountains of data that they hold.

The good news is that a small majority of respondents described their data strategies as either "highly" or "largely" successful. However, just under half of respondents said their data strategies had been, at best, "moderately" so.

But why is this? According to the survey, the most commonly encountered obstacles are culture and organisation, followed by a lack of the requisite skills. In other words, the traditional command-and-control, hierarchical organisation can mitigate against the need for data democratisation.

As a result, unlocking insights from the data held in different departmental silos, such as HR, Payroll, Finance, and Accounting, becomes more difficult.

Only one-quarter of respondents had integrated key back-office functions such as these, meaning that sharing data across discrete applications to create a richer, deeper picture of organisational health and performance was perhaps impossible.

A small minority - 12 percent of respondents - reported having fully embedded analytics linked with transactional and analytical data, all within same system.

Only 25 percent of respondents enjoyed full data democratisation, meaning that non-data-science users could access relevant data and use analysis and visualisation tools themselves, without relying on expensive analysts to do the basic work for them.

Organisational silos, the systems that underpin them, and the disjointed, labour-intensive analytics that they engender, are impeding business attempts to extract insight and value from their data. Indeed, Computing found that fewer than half of respondents said that data-guided decision making was either easy or very easy as a result.

Data democratisation brings the real world into the organisation, but many enterprises may not be set up to benefit from those insights, or even allow that level of analysis to take place. Leaders need to push for that change from the very top.

This article is from Computing's Cloud ERP Spotlight, hosted in association with Workday.



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