Expensive to acquire, challenging to organize, essential to protect. An organization’s data is often both a prized asset and a source of angst.

The term “big data” entered modern parlance over 20 years ago, thanks to one John R. Mashey, chief scientist at Silicon Graphics. Then as processing power became cheaper, the rest of us followed the Facebooks and Googles of the world and enthusiastically applied statistical modelling and probabilities to improve forecasting. It’s a battle out there, and those with the best intel will win.

“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.” — C. William Pollard, Chairman, Fairwyn Investment Company

Related Article: 6-Steps to a Better Business Intelligence Strategy 

A Coordinated Effort

Unfortunately, most of us are doing a terrible job of using our data. Gaps exist between inferring a trend or identifying a correlation and using those data-driven insights to provide business value.

In an article in Forbes, business consultant Adi Gaskell writes, “A recent report from EY reveals that whilst 81 percent of organizations support the notion that data should be at the heart of everything they do, the vast majority continue to keep data in silos, thus strangling their efforts at birth.”

The key is to use the data consistently on an everyday basis rather than using one or two isolated insights to make decisions. But without the technology, training and data preparation necessary to make data analytics tools readily accessible to employees throughout an organization, people tend to fall back on requests to IT for data analysis, creating bottlenecks and resulting in a lack of consistency in analysis or application.

To encourage consistent and broad use of data insights, organizations must democratize analytics. Helping people interpret data using straightforward visualization tools within a business intelligence (BI) dashboard can make a huge difference, and the rapidly increasing popularity of Microsoft’s Power BI is testament to this. The benefits of presenting data from multiple sources in a digestible form to help teams access and understand it in real time are significant.

Related Article: Knowledge Management and Big Data: Strange Bedfellows?

Victory Through Intelligence

Should we agree to this potential client’s pricing demands? What is our projected capacity next month? Do bonus gifts or price promotions work better with our domestic customer base? Which department is submitting the most sick days and does this correlate with any internal events?

There are an infinite number of questions that BI dashboards can help answer. But how do you encourage employees to incorporate data-driven decisions into their daily work lives?

Learning Opportunities

An organization’s digital workplace or intranet is the perfect place to house relevant BI dashboards — a central platform containing key information and resources that people already visit during the course of their day. Providing real-time data in a clear visual format will normalize the use of a BI dashboard, enabling informed decision-making and ensuring that the organization benefits from its data investments.

For example, a digital workplace leader board tracking sales goals or customer query resolutions could inject some fun and healthy competition into measuring staff performance. With or without gamification, the essential element is the presentation of otherwise invisible data to assess, motivate and engage staffers.

performance dashboard

Lead by Example

Any data democratization strategy must come from the top down. In a 2017 survey of BI and data professionals by TDWI Research, one-third of the respondents said that they did not believe they were close to being data-driven, citing barriers such as leadership, technology and lack of skills. Indeed, 42 percent of respondents cited lack of executive support or corporate strategy as barriers to being data-driven.

In the absence of a central data strategy, the IT department in one Australian company invested in Tableau, integrated it with databases, created swathes of test data and developed and presented use cases to internal teams. But then IT tried to charge users a hefty fee to use the new system. Unsurprisingly, uptake was minimal, costs were not covered and everyone continued to spend hours poring over spreadsheets to glean occasional insights.

Senior leaders must avoid data dictatorship and democratize analytics through the provision of user-friendly interfaces on a central platform like the corporate intranet, building a data culture by normalizing its use. No one is suggesting it will be easy to manage data cleanliness and update lags, but without broad adoption of analytics tools, the challenge of becoming a data-driven organization and enjoying the corresponding competitive benefits could be an unwinnable war.