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What it takes to achieve data excellence

(Image credit: Image Credit: StartupStockPhotos / Pixabay)

The amount of data generated worldwide every day is both daunting and exciting. To put it into context, YouTube reports that a staggering 4.5 million videos are viewed every 60 seconds. And by 2030 it’s been predicted that nine in every ten people aged six and above will be digitally active – surmounting to greater and greater amounts of data.

The exponential growth in data has led to an increasing number of Chief Data Officers (CDOs) joining company boards to help structure business’ understanding, management and use of data. This is because in many cases organisations aren’t yet using their data to its full potential.

Our recent study, Data Strategy and Culture: Paving the way to the Cloud, surveyed data decision makers and found that only 32 per cent of data teams could extract all the insights they need.

Often, data teams are battling a lack of efficiency because a robust data strategy and data culture have not been firmly established from the get go. This is a mistake that can significantly impact future business success and hinder the pursuit of genuine data excellence. It’s more positive therefore that our research also discovered that 83 per cent of respondents say work is being done to establish a data-driven culture in their organisation.

Engaging your employees in your data strategy

To achieve data excellence, its essential that an organisation cements a data-driven culture, with a clearly led data-driven strategy. It must also have clarity on who is leading and managing the strategy and culture. 74 per cent of decision makers agree that data strategies are driven at the board level. More than half (55 per cent) believe that strategies should be driven by a Data Centre of Excellence (CoE), or an Innovation Lab. A CDOs ability to feature and drive both is a major reason behind the rise in firms creating this position in their organisational hierarchy. 

Establishing a CoE can be the catalyst to achieving the shift in culture that a data-driven strategy demands, bringing together employees and stakeholders with a single source of truth.

For bigger organisations, this compromises a dedicated team of data scientists, data engineers, data architects, visualisation analysts, workflow integrators, delivery managers and more. For smaller organisations, this would be scaled down: assigned members from different business units work together on data projects in an agile manner as well as delivering on their everyday responsibilities.

The end goal is always the same – building relationships and proving the benefit of data for every department. By controlling how data is managed, interpreted and used organisations can make more informed decisions across the business from a centralised source.

Instilling an effective data culture

Having this company-wide approach is imperative. With everyone aligned the business can grow to its full potential. Data democratisation as part of an organisation’s data strategy goes a step further via a sustainable plan for employees of every level to access data relevant to their role.

This level of buy-in across an entire organisation drives real cultural change by turning data analytics into a day-to-day contributor to the business rather than a perceived business function. And in time, it helps all employees to make better decisions and uncover new opportunities. 80 per cent of decision makers in our survey believe that opening up access to data has a positive impact.

The CDO is ideally placed to head up data democratisation initiatives, the establishment of a CoE and recruiting a whole organisation of ‘data citizens’. These elements combined ensures humans are at the heart of a data strategy and means that data becomes an open and useful tool to savvy departmental experts rather than a gated asset.

Opening up data in this way also helps to overcome the resistance that some organisations face when it comes to employees misunderstanding data. By showing them how it can enhance their role and free up time for them to perform more meaningful and rewarding tasks, it can lead to an increase in productivity, reduction in costs and the ability to rethink operations.

Is the cloud right for you?

As well as a robust data culture, data democratisation also requires the right infrastructure to support it. Unfortunately, our research discovered that four out of five data decision makers find their current IT infrastructure makes data democratisation challenging.

When choosing the right deployment model organisations need to consider a variety of different factors. These include speed, cost, future requirements and types of workload, such as prespective analytics, data science and/or the data warehouse. Therefore, it’s important to make this decision after a data strategy is in place for businesses to fully evaluate whether on-premises or cloud is the right option for what they want to achieve.

Often, flexibility is important for organisations, which means a hybrid cloud approach can be the most efficient. With this model, organisations can manage sensitive workloads on-premises but also utilise the cloud, which is powerful when it comes to big volumes of data needing to get to big numbers of people in real-time. In fact, 96 per cent of those we surveyed agree that a cloud model could make it easier to democratise their data. Firms can then not only turn their data into value faster than ever before but also quickly adapt as the business evolves.

Going one step further, of those who have already moved workloads to the cloud, 51 per cent say that it has improved ease of access and shareability of data and 46 per cent that they now experience faster query/response times.

For example, fintech company Revolut saw data volumes increasing 2000 per cent in 12 months on its path to becoming the most valuable fintech start-up and the cloud was imperative.

Driving success

This vast amount of data meant that, long-term, Revolut couldn’t use its existing operational databases because some queries took hours to run. It just wasn’t agile enough.

Therefore, Exasol’s high-performance in-memory analytics database running on its Google Cloud Platform was chosen as its new deployment model. Migrating to this cloud-based approach reduced SQL query times from hours to seconds and opened up access to data with dashboards made available to every employee.

Achieving data democratisation means that everyone has access to the data they need for their daily work in a simple and efficient way. And the data science team uses the central database as a single point of truth, from which it can download real-time extracts and insights from at any time.

Revolut can now optimally analyse large datasets spanning several sources to assist in fraud detection, improving customer satisfaction and financial reporting.

With clarity comes excellence

By combining an effective data strategy with a robust data culture that empowers employees through data democratisation and an infrastructure that opens up the many benefits of the cloud, organisations can not only become data-driven but achieve true data excellence.

Helena Schwenk, Market Intelligence Lead, Exasol