Data Democratization is Critical Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic

Today’s crisis has no precedent in our lifetimes. Entire workforces are working remotely from home, travel is banned, and information about the current state of the world changes daily. While established workflows and business processes have been thrown out the window, one constant remains: communication and collaboration are essential to making the most informed business decisions as organizations navigate their “new normal”.  


Informed business decisions are backed by data and the actionable insights workers are able to glean from various datasets.  However, if you’re a data steward, data engineer, data scientist, analyst, or anyone else requesting data to answer important business questions, the easy access to people with data and data context is suddenly and indefinitely gone. So what does this mean for businesses and people that rely on and work with data in order to maintain business-critical operations and achieve the best outcomes? Below are several ways technology innovation can help people stay connected and ensure everyone has access to the data they need, wherever they are.


Breaking Down Data, People, and Knowledge Silos 

The data management industry focuses a lot on breaking down data silos. But people silos and knowledge silos are also barriers to true data cultures. “Solving” data silos as distinct from people and knowledge silos simply doesn’t work. That was true before COVID-19, and it’s undeniable now.  


The good news is that social media and collaboration tools make it easier than ever to be remote.  Usage of platforms such as Slack, Google Drive, Zoom, JIRA, and other apps is soaring as a way for teams to continue to meet virtually and cooperate on work being done.  But these remote collaboration tools aren’t built for real data work like sharing and reproducing reports, understanding data quality, or identifying important datasets and making them quickly available to the people who need access. 


That’s a problem because most data still travels separately from the context needed to understand it and the people who can answer questions about it.  For example, let’s say a colleague emails you a spreadsheet. You have questions about it so you walk over— or these days, call—and talk to her.  


The knowledge shared during that phone call now lives in both your head and hers, but nowhere that’s accessible companywide or publicly searchable.  If a coworker Slacks you a question about the meaning of a column header labeled, “orders,” the answer you give stays in Slack direct messages and contributes nothing back to the companywide usability of the data. 


These interactions and workflows that generate siloed data are a problem even in the best of times when everything is humming. In today’s environment, companies must work quickly to make sure essential context stays with data at all times. That means what people learn about the data by asking stewards and subject matter experts (SMEs) must be captured alongside the data for everyone to learn.  


The scenario described above plays out differently and more efficiently, with data and context linked via a data catalog or other metadata management tool. A colleague may point you toward the spreadsheet, but no further interaction would be needed because the column information is well defined in a business glossary. You know precisely what the word, “orders” means and can begin your analysis immediately.


This is one simple scenario, but these off-catalog conversations happen several times a day between people that have data and people that need to answer important business questions. Linking data and context is absolutely critical for speed and precision.


The Importance of Cloud and Community

COVID-19 has shifted us into a gear we didn’t know existed. Companies already practicing agile development processes and using SaaS-based data tools are better set up for success than those that aren’t. Cloud-native applications shine when speed, flexibility, and accessibility are crucial. 


When all of a sudden a company goes from two offices to roughly two-thousand - factoring in all the new remote employees - the cloud makes provisioning collaboration and data tools companywide simple. And because the software is fully managed, the company doesn’t have to worry about routine maintenance, costly upgrades, or lengthy hardware provisioning processes.


Legacy, on-premises software isn’t built to meet the scale of growing data communities nor is it particularly good at handling remote data work. Beyond that, if an organization experiences a problem with the software or the license, getting a timely resolution will be more challenging in today’s current environment as onsite visits for installs, upgrades, and maintenance are ill-advised.  


Now is the time to take advantage of modern technologies that allow companies to move fast, be agile, stay collaborative, and work entirely online. It’s critical for fostering thriving data communities within a business. Companies who share data, context, and analyses internally should come out ahead when this global crisis de-escalates. Their investment in these communities will have undoubtedly driven unprecedented creativity and the innovative solutions needed to adapt to today’s most difficult business challenges.   


We’re all in this fight together. Data can serve a powerful role in not only sparking ideas around how to beat the virus but also how business operations in essential industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and media can continue. Democratizing access to it is needed now more than ever.