The key to getting data democratisation right lies in the data engineer
MJ Scholtz, Data Engineer at PBT Group
Rated by Forbes as one of the top data science and analytics trends to watch in 2023, data democratisation is something that no business can afford to ignore. This is the act of opening up the world of data to the entire organisation and enabling business users to make confident, data-informed decisions and build customer experiences driven by data.
In recent years, South African companies have rapidly migrated to the cloud and hybrid work has normalised. It has become clear that employees need the same seamless access to data from home as they would in the office. However, this has been the exclusive domain of data engineers, analysts and scientists. Small portions of data and associated insights have started being made available to more people inside the business. While it is still early days, this data democratisation process is signifying the total reinvention of how data is viewed and managed inside an organisation.
Line in the sand
For a long time, there has been a line in the sand between the data management teams and business users. As a result, businesses have become much too reliant on data management teams to provide them with reports and insights which causes a bottleneck in the data distribution pipeline. This have led users to become hesitant to drive the creation of new insights and they would rather make use of standardised reports and estimates to reach conclusions. This behaviour will often result in useful data effectively going to waste as decision-makers are unaware of what they have at their disposal as well as the value to be derived from it.
One of the reasons behind this is the traditional viewpoint that you can only have access to data if you have a certain operational/technical level within the organisation. However, often the more hands-on ground forces and lower-level employees can provide the best insights.
Therefore, a need to open the world of data to people with different levels of responsibilities within the business becomes apparent. This will allow business individuals to utilise this open access to data to achieve their tasks more confidently and more efficiently.
The likes of POPIA and other data compliance measures are also contributing to companies being nervous about how to go about democratising data to more people inside the organisation. The repercussions, both financial and reputational, of an organisation risking the potential leak of sensitive data are certainly significant.
This means that certain management aspects around data democratisation must be introduced. Companies must embrace tools that enable data masking and privatising certain aspects of data without risking the usability of the data. Throughout this process, it enables business users to freely explore data available to them without exposing sensitive information in the process.
Enter the data engineer
Data engineers play a critical role in successfully democratising data in an organisation as it is ultimately the responsibility of the data engineers to not only ensure the availability of data but also to the accessibility of data in a democratised environment. By giving the business users direct access to tools they can use to explore available datasets, investigate unprocessed/raw data and create and share new insights without intervention from the data management team, the data engineers can have more time to focus on their primary goals.
Aside from having a holistic view of the business data, the data engineer also functions as the bridge between the data environment and the business. So, when it comes to data democratisation, these data engineers have a good view of what the company has, what they want, and what they need. From an engineer perspective, they can advise the organisation on the value they will miss out on if there is a lack of data democratisation. In some cases, organisations have found it helpful to embed data engineers in each team within the business, to allow for a more specialised approach to identifying useful datasets and better understand the goals of their team.
When data democratisation is enabled across an entire organisation, it quickly becomes apparent that it can open floodgates to identify data that is available, what can be used, and the value that can be pulled from it. It becomes a game-changer for the business with data being used to drive profit margins.
While it is always good to take a technology-agnostic viewpoint around data democratisation, there are tools specifically designed to implement it within a company. But more than that, the organisation requires a mindset change from a management level to drive data democratisation successfully.
One of the best ways to approach the data democratisation journey is having a meticulous focus on privacy without jeopardising the main goal of what the company wants to achieve from embarking on the project to begin with – maximising the insights to be generated from the data at its disposal.