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PHOTO: Michael Dziedzic

Although the work world remains in flux, one truth has held fast throughout the pandemic: innovation is the name of the game. Whether this means integrating new business workflows to enhance core organizational health, or creating a new product that satisfies the changing demands of your customers, companies that make innovation a priority through times of crisis historically outperform their competition during recovery.

Unfortunately, everyone knows collaboration, and therefore, innovation, is harder when team members are working remotely. The solution? An expanding number of companies have proven that embracing data democratization — or the process of providing workers with unencumbered access to data — helps to improve workflows, overcome challenges and thrive in this new normal.

Read on to learn why thoughtfully eliminating data barriers allows businesses to make better decisions, and how to improve data literacy in your organization.

4 Business Benefits of Data Democratization

A study from MicroStrategy found that 94% of business pros think data and analytics are important to business growth. Yet, only 26.8% of executives report that they’ve successfully built a data-driven culture within their firms. That’s not surprising, as evolving into an enterprise that democratizes data takes time, patience and due diligence (more on that below). But studies show that the potential gains associated with kicking data bottlenecks to the curb are well worth the effort. Here’s why:

It Fosters Collaboration From Afar

Many employees are working remotely during the pandemic, which means they can’t simply pop over to their colleagues’ workspaces and get the information they need. Luckily, the best of today’s data analytics tools are cloud-native and powered by mobile. For example, at my organization, we’ve created dashboards that track how our industry is recovering from COVID-19. These dashboards are accessible to employees and their information is compiled and shared during our all-hands staff meetings, board meetings, and industry updates we share with other healthcare executives.

When you facilitate an environment that allows workers to access the data they need to intelligently do their jobs whenever and wherever they want, those employees can easily digest, share and build upon other teams’ insights in minutes instead of days.

It Boosts Employee Productivity

MicroStrategy’s 2020 Global State of Enterprise Analytics report found that when team members need to gather data to make a decision, only 3% are able to do so in a matter of seconds. For 60% of those surveyed, it takes hours or days. And Accenture reported that companies lose more than 43 hours per employee annually due to procrastination or stress-induced sick leave stemming from information, data and technology issues.

On the flipside, 64% of enterprises surveyed said they saw improved efficiency and productivity after increasing data literacy and leveraging data analytics.

Related Article: The Role of Data Literacy in the Workplace

It fuels innovation

Transparently providing the data your workers need to do their jobs not only increases communication and efficiency, but also breeds innovation. Companies achieve a distinct competitive advantage when they supply employees with the information that helps them identify challenges and solutions autonomously. In fact, “The more people with diverse expertise who have the ability to access data easily and quickly will enable your organization to identify and take action on critical business insights,” writes Bernard Marr, author of the best-selling book, "Big Data in Practice."

It builds resilience

COVID-19 has painfully exposed the need for organizations to make judgment-intensive decisions on a dime. And the ability to instantly access the data required to make these decisions means organizations become more agile and resilient in the long-run. Data democracy ensures that — during both good times and bad — key employees are fully equipped to help their companies thrive.

Related Article: The Digital Transformation Time Line Just Sped Up. Now What?

4 Tips to Improve Data Literacy in Your Organization

Ready to truly drive with data after reading the benefits above? Here are some tips to make it happen:

Identify and invest in tech partners

Creating an enterprise data warehouse will allow your team to pull insights from various sources within the organization quickly and easily, thus fostering greater collaboration among remote teams. When enhancing your tech stack, look for tools that seamlessly integrate with each other to increase data literacy. At my organization, we’re big fans of Tableau, a visual analytics platform, and Snowflake, a cloud platform that houses data.

Eliminate data gatekeepers

Trying to build a data culture at your company without instilling an environment of trust and transparency is a lost cause. For decades, data has been seen as a commodity “owned” by specific groups, like IT or marketing. But this line of thinking slows down progress and creates an internal struggle that hobbles the establishment of data literacy and leaves workers frustrated. Data guardrails and security are still essential; but roadblocks — in the form of either data silos or data owners — must be eradicated.

Related Article: How a Data-Driven Company Culture Can Enhance Digital Experience

Train employees on how to use data

While Accenture found that 75% of C-level executives thought most or all of their employees could proficiently work with data, only 21% of employees reported being comfortable with their data literacy skills. Before you jump on the data democratization train, objectively assess your employees’ data literacy. Then, offer them the training they need to succeed.

Establish guardrails, checks and balances

Remember what I said about eliminating gatekeepers? Well, I meant it — but I’m not advising you to throw data security to the wind. To avoid the mismanagement or misinterpretation of data, create a core team committed to owning data literacy training, as well as data accuracy, curation and sharing. At my organization, we’ve established a centralized data engineering team that equips other employees within our company with access to our raw data, or the data we store in Tableau. Creating these stewards of data integrity has helped streamline data literacy within our organization while keeping it secure.

The current climate may be rocky, but that doesn’t mean your business decisions have to be. Securely getting data into the hands of every member of your team — and giving them the tools they need to leverage it — will help employees work harder and make long-term impacts that will far outlast the vestigial threats of the pandemic.