How Community-Driven Analytics Promotes Data Literacy in Enterprises

eWEEK DATA POINTS: To maximize the value of all the data that is rapidly piling up in stores, strategic A&BI leaders must align their data agenda to business objectives and put the power of data into the hands of business leaders and domain experts.

Using the term “community” to describe technology innovation for analytics and business intelligence (A&BI) may seem an unlikely pairing. But consider the discussion around data culture and data collaboration that has been circulating for years without a solution that gives business users real power to act on their data questions.

Just as many technology innovations took off when developers were invited to the table to be a part of the business conversation, the table for the data conversation needs to be extended to include a community of knowledge workers who can transform data into real-time to tangible business outcomes. 

In his book “Community: The Structure of Belonging,” Peter Block, an authority on workplace learning and performance, wrote: “Most sustainable improvements in community occur when citizens discover their own power to act … and decide they can reclaim what they have delegated to others.” 

An IDC whitepaper from 2018 predicted that the collective sum of the world’s data would grow from 33 zettabytes this year to 175 ZB by 2025, for a compounded annual growth rate of 61 percent. To maximize the value of all this data, strategic A&BI leaders must align their data agenda to business objectives and put the power of data into the hands of business leaders and domain experts. The best way to do that is to make business teams part of the A&BI process, transforming it into a community-driven effort that extends the value of data, analyses and insights across departments, applications, ecosystems, partners, customers--and even entire industries.

As a cloud-native A&BI company with a diverse range of customers using data across industries, Sigma Computing focuses on transforming how business teams access data. In this eWEEK Data Points article, Sigma Computing co-founder and CTO Rob Woollen shares how community-driven A&BI has the potential to reshape how companies leverage data to improve and in some cases even transform, the business. 

Data Point No. 1: Current ‘self-service BI’ solutions have failed to bridge the data literacy gap

Companies need to move lightning fast and course-correct in real time to compete. During the last decade, the amount of data that is created, consumed and stored has exploded. The confidence that data-driven decision making can provide is appealing to business leaders. In every team and department, people need to be able to ask questions, get answers and iterate to gain insights. 

But this all puts incredible strain on the data team. A sharp divide exists between those who speak the “language of data” and non-technical domain experts. Instead of investing in education, promoting data literacy and laying the foundation for collaboration between these two camps, companies throw bodies and technology at the problem, setting everyone up for failure. 

For over a decade now, self-service BI has been heralded as the solution that would bridge this gap, freeing data teams to focus on their work, while giving business users the ability to find the insights they need to make better decisions. By Gartner’s definition, self-service BI has largely been a myth. Far from being “hands-off,” the tools that claim to offer self-service BI to business teams actually require a significant amount of work from the IT department and data teams, as well as loads of complicated code to set up, use and maintain. Days, or even weeks, of specialized training and/or daily assists from the data team are often necessary to answer even basic questions. 

Unsurprisingly, the adoption of these solutions has stalled at a mere 35 percent. Instead of opening the door to more engagement with the data, the result has often been the opposite, an expectation for more reports. The empty promises of self-service BI are one reason for the imbalance between a business’s data and the actionable insights they have been able to draw from it.  

Data Point No. 2: Every job requires data 

Data is deeply integrated into the business processes of nearly every company precisely because it is helping us make better decisions and not because of its ability to hasten lofty things, such as digital transformation. The C-suite sees the advantages data insights provide and as a result, non-technical employees are increasingly expected to be more technically adept at extraction and interpretation of data. Successful organizations foster a community of data curious teams and empower them with a single platform that enables everyone, regardless of technical ability, to explore, analyze and share data.

Furthermore, domain experts and business leaders must be able to generate their own content, build off of content created by others and promote high-value, trustworthy content, while also demoting old, inaccurate, or unused content. This should resemble an active peer review process where helpful content is promoted and bad content is flagged as such by the community, while simultaneously being managed and governed by the data team. 

Data Point No. 3: Spreadsheets threaten security and compliance policies

Data and BI teams today largely function in support of business teams. Requests are submitted and filled, which can take weeks depending on complexity, priority and queue length. Today, business teams are dependent upon those that are able to write SQL - or some other programming language - for the information they need to make both micro and macro decisions.

Neither group is happy about the imbalance this scenario creates. This broken system often results in business teams downloading datasets into Excel or Google Sheets so they can run their own analyses. In fact, 93% of domain experts and 88% of data experts use Excel or Google Sheets to conduct data analysis. At this point, data integrity, governance and security are lost. 

Data Point No. 4: True self-service BI paves the way for a community-driven approach

A generation of digital-native data users are becoming business professionals and they are used to asking questions and getting immediate answers. This dynamic is creating pressure on IT organizations, data teams and BI analysts to make it easier and faster to get answers without needing to learn coding languages and the more visual the better. Business teams need a tool that can bridge the data literacy skill gap with an interface that is familiar and aligns with existing skills, like the ubiquitous spreadsheet. This tool needs to be simultaneously powerful enough for the data team and easy enough to use that anyone can use it so everyone can collaborate in the same place.

Community-driven A&BI builds on the idea of collaborative analytics, but takes it a step further to ensure that data initiatives align with business objectives and everyone’s unique expertise is incorporated into the analysis process. Today, data science teams and business teams largely work in silos. Each group has distinct skills and unique domain expertise that they bring to the data conversation. Combining the two is more likely to result in richer and actionable insights. Ultimately, community-driven A&BI harnesses the power of collective intelligence - the intersection of expertise, data and technology - to decrease time to insight, identify more meaningful metrics and discover new insights that propel the business forward.

Data Point No. 5: A single source of truth for data

Activating the network effect of data with community-driven A&BI has the potential to transform the business landscape, but openness needs to be balanced with security, to provide governed data exploration. At the same time, companies need to retain extensive security, governance and control over data to ensure it is can serve as a single source of truth. Companies need to leverage the modern data governance that is only possible in cloud solutions, like cloud data warehouses (CDWs) and cloud-native A&BI tools, to enable anyone to securely and safely access and analyze live data. 

Overcoming four organizational challenges or "sticking points" offers a path towards this goal:

True self-service: An A&BI tool with a flexible, spreadsheet-like interface empowers business teams to explore and analyze billions of rows of live data stored in a CDW, using familiar spreadsheet formulas, not code.

Modern data governance: Freedom and flexibility don’t need to come at the cost of security or control. There is an advantage to connecting directly to a CDW because administrators can restrict data by role and create permissions for each user. This requires providing a single point-of-access for your data, so you can establish robust data governance, eliminate dangerous extracts and keep data off desktops.

Reuse analyses and collaborate with others: The best A&BI tools empower business and data teams to collaborate with one another to create more robust, contextual data models and foundational datasets. When everyone can share and build on each other’s work, the time to insight and data ROI accelerates. The data also remains accurate and up-to-the-minute because it’s directly accessed from the CDW, without the worry of duplication or creating redundant reports. 

Focus on the work that matters: By empowering domain experts to explore the data themselves, data teams are free to pursue higher priority work, like uncovering new data sources, building new data models and solving impactful problems to uncover more value for the organization as a whole. 

Data Point No. 6: A path to data citizenship

To be a data citizen you have to belong to a community with a shared goal of driving insights from data that is accessible to everyone. Citizenship is empowerment, especially today as we struggle with how we fit into the greater whole in our organizations and adjust to the remote workplace. A community-driven data strategy not only supports business objectives but is a facilitator to greater overall team engagement. When more people can safely access, share and explore data, there are more opportunities for a shared purpose and that may just be the key to fulfilling the data-driven dream.

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