Moving data to the coalface to achieve business success

Self-service data preparation, which we define as empowering business workers and analysts to prepare data for themselves prior to analysis, is often cited as the next big thing. In fact, Gartner predicted last year that “by 2017 most business users and analysts in organisations will have access to self-service tools to prepare data for analysis”.

The great news about the new self-service data preparation trend is that it goes beyond the office of the CIO. It represents a significant step forward for data-driven organisations as a whole. If done well, it will allow anyone to put data to work in their operational context whether they are in finance, sales, marketing or HR.

This is a hugely exciting prospect for any business because up to now, obtaining accurate data capable of furthering an organisation’s strategic goals has typically been a difficult, time-consuming and intractable challenge. Business analysts spend far too much time making data ready for analysis, finding the data source, discovering its content, cleansing it and standardising it so that it aggregates correctly and connects with other data points. In fact, research shows, business analysts spend roughly 80 per cent of their time on repetitive tasks that prepares data for analysis, which leaves just 20 per cent of their time to extracting and sharing those insights.

As Philip Howard, research director at Bloor Research states: “Extracting value from data has historically involved a lot of time and effort – especially when it is disparate and from multiple sources. And far too much time and effort has been spent just getting the data ready to be analysed rather than in the analysis process itself.”

Democratising Data

Historically, the task of data preparation has too often fallen solely to overburdened IT teams that can’t keep up with the growing data demands of the business, and data analysts who are all too frequently spending more time wrangling data than they are supplying insights. Fortunately, with the advent of the latest open source self-service applications, this is now all starting to change, helping to bring Gartner’s prediction closer to fruition.

One of the great advances delivered by self-service data preparation is that it extends the benefits of digital transformation to all business users and not just the few analysts and IT experts that previously understood it. The ability to explore, cleanse, enrich and combine data in minutes instead of hours allows line of business users to apply their own unique domain expertise and work directly with the data that’s relevant to their business objectives. By simplifying the whole process, this kind of capability represents another step towards the democratisation of data analysis and a further step away from using traditional spreadsheets. Data analysis was once a highly specialised task, which only expert and very expensive data analysts could undertake.

These latest advancements help to empower executives from lines of business across the whole organisation - from HR professionals to finance directors, sales teams and marketers - even those with no IT background at all - to get data into the format they need and use the results to advance the operational goals and strategic objectives of their departments. Even without an IT skillset, users can start working on their data while avoiding having to create complicated formulas, write code or complete the same tasks over and over again.

That does not mean that the IT department no longer has a role to play or that specific business lines should work in isolation, however. The best self-service tools should foster collaboration, effectively providing a sound way to reconcile IT and lines of business so that they can unlock data collaboratively. Data democratisation is not anarchy. It needs control, rules and governance, otherwise it will fail.

Delivering Value to Every Department

The good news is that the best of the self-service data preparation tools emerging today have built-in data governance and with the help and guidance of IT, will allow business lines to get up and running quickly - opening up data lakes to more workers.

The ability to use the latest technology to streamline the whole process and reduce the time taken to prepare data from hours to minutes will help departments wrest back time from the laborious process of cleaning and crunching data and allow them to spend it instead on driving critical strategic tasks like analysing customer sentiment and behaviour; likely future market responses to a range of different operational scenarios or the conversion rate of certain kinds of sales leads.

In short, the ability of the latest self-service technology to help various line of business analysts access, cleanse and prepare their data quickly, enables those workers to spend more time on the high-value task of extracting insight from the data and sharing that back with the business.

This is critically important because analytics can be the driver of differentiation for any department and in the new age of self-service data preparation, the ability to act on data quickly will increasingly be the key determinant of success for many companies.

Jean-Michel Franco, Product Marketing Director, Talend

Image credit: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens