Why data should no longer be the preserve of data scientists

By Paul Alexander

Today, data is everything. In fact, much of a modern business’s value is based entirely on the value of its data. Just look at the flotations of Twitter and Facebook, or the impending IPO of Snapchat; reputed to be somewhere between $25 billion and $40 billion.

The way businesses are run has changed irrevocably. Gut feel, a hunch, intuition – they’re no longer enough. The likes of AirBNB, Netflix and Uber led the digital transformation and the resulting big data mountain. We have quickly reached the point of no return, with a full 90 percent of all data in the world being generated over the last two years alone.

Data is organic

But how do businesses wade through the unprecedented data deluge to unlock the power of it before it goes stale? For businesses to be effective it is important they think of data as organic and constantly changing. Whilst it provides evidence to help businesses understand the past, it also signposts their future.

2017 provides an opportunity to harness the true power of data, and make information accessible to all within the business to provide knowledge, insight, and action. The commercial benefits of data analysis are well recognised as something organsiations need if they are to compete in today’s fast-paced environment, for many though it’s become a significant investment that’s still not bringing the much-hyped return. 

Need for data democratisation

LinkedIn is full of job postings for data intelligence officers and data scientists. While organisations across the globe fall over themselves to employ them, many still don’t understand that however good they are at their job a data scientist will only be able to view data from a single perspective. Far better value from big data actually comes when a business turns data into knowledge, knowledge into insight, insight into action, and action into impact. Crucially, businesses need to understand, it is less about the data and more about the people in an organisation who can make a difference and influence customer experience or a product.

It is vital, therefore, for all staff in an organisation, no matter of seniority, to have the ability to understand and use data if they are to truly improve their own and their business’s performance. It is also imperative that businesses aggregate and simplify all the relevant data sets and align teams behind one shared view so that they can make better, faster, more confident business decisions. Ultimately, businesses must look at how they democratise their data to enable timely, effective decision-making at the point of action, whether that’s at the check-out or in the boardroom.

After all, all the clever data scientists, analysis and Hadoop clusters in the world are worthless until the business is actually selling more as a result, and more often than not this means that it’s the people at the frontline, the sales and customer service agents who are ultimately going to make that difference. In many companies today, the people doing these key roles are still last in line for the right information to help them do their jobs effectively.

Make data accessible to all

Making data accessible to all within the business is the key. Yes, data protection regulations need to be adhered to, but making data only available to a privileged few within the business is a quick way to diminish its value. By putting the right tools in place, it is far better to allow every employee to understand important data, leading to a shared ownership and improved business performance through operational efficiencies.

The amount of column inches devoted to big data is beginning to abate. The industry is stopping focusing on simply gathering data in huge volumes and rather focusing on making better use of the data already held within their business to gain greater insight.

A time for change

The huge recent success of Bradley Wiggins, Laura Trott and the rest of the Team GB cycling team has often been put down to the amalgamation of marginal gains. Whether it was improving the aerodynamic capabilities of the saddle by 1% or placing antibacterial hand gel around the training camp to cut down on infections.

The same can be said for businesses. Those that not just survive, but thrive, will be the ones that use data to identify where marginal gains can be achieved to impact the bottom line. Aggregating many small improvements can lead to big results.  It is time for businesses to put their data to work. By identifying and prioritising the most relevant data, businesses can start taking actions.

I believe in a world where digital information is no longer just the preserve of data scientists, but accessible to all; providing knowledge, insight, and action for non-specialists. Moving away from simple data analysis to offering meaningful, results-based insight is essential. Companies are realising that when they hire data analysts they need much more than analysis. They need people that can offer valuable insight from the analysis, moving beyond transactional analysis to behavioural insight. This insight will then trickle down into every level of the business so everyone from the sales assistant on the shop floor, to the CEO are able to use this information to benefit the business. Helping companies to grow, employees to feel empowered and securing long-term customer loyalty. 

By Paul Alexander, founder and CEO of Beyond Analysis

Read the March 2017 issue of Business Review Europe magazine. 

Follow @BizReviewEurope


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