Data access: the key to better decision making
When employees have better access to data, they end up making better decisions.
Companies across sectors are already well in the habit of collecting relevant historical and business data to make projections and forecast the unknown future. They’re collecting this data at such a scale that 'big data' has become a buzzword technology. They want lots of it because they want an edge wherever they can get it. Who wouldn’t?
But it’s not only the quantity and quality of the data a company collects that play a pivotal role in how that company moves forward, it’s also a question of access. When businesses democratize access to that data such that it’s accessible to workers throughout a hierarchy (and those workers end up actually interacting with it), it increases the quality of decisions made on lower rungs of the ladder. Those decisions end up being more often data-informed, and data is power.
But that’s easier said than done lately. Businesses have no issue collecting data nowadays, but they do tend to keep it cordoned off.
Data sticks to the top of a business hierarchy
A business’s C-suite (often with help from a technical data science team) makes the big-picture decisions that guide the company’s overall development. This means the employees using data to inform a chosen course of action (like last year’s revenue versus this year’s revenue, or a certain client’s most common order) are either highly ranked within the company, or are wonky data specialists. Data lives behind a velvet rope, so to speak.
But this data would be eminently useful to people throughout an organization, regardless of their rank or tenure. Such a level of access would make it more likely that data guides every decision, and that would lead to more desirable business outcomes over time. It might even overtly motivate employees by subtly reinforcing the idea that results are tracked and measured.
Data tends not to trickle down to the appropriate sources
Who better to have a clear view of the business landscape than the employees who toe the front lines every day? What would change if disparate employees scattered throughout an organization suddenly had access to actionable data points? These are the people positioned to actually make a tweak or optimization from the get-go. Whoever comes up with a data-informed strategy on a strong way forward, these are the people actually implementing it. But an organization-level awareness of an actionable data point doesn’t necessarily equate to action.
As previously established, data has a high center of gravity. It is managerial food for thought on the way to designing and executing longer-term business strategies.
But when companies change their culture around access to data and make it easy for everyone to interact with data, they make every worker think like such a strategist.
By the time a piece of data reaches an appropriate source, it’s notnecessarily in a form he or she can’t interact with or understand
As much as managers might like to think otherwise, there are people in their organization thinking in less than granular terms. They aren’t necessarily thinking about the costs their actions may or may not be having on the company, they don’t think about the overall bottom line. That’s why it’s important that data be in a form that people can use or understand, because it doesn’t always reach them that way.
Getting data into a useable, understandable form happens by preserving connection between departments and avoiding disconnects.
There seems to be a big data disconnect at the intersection of engineering and product development
This is the intersection is where a business’s technical prowess meets its ability to design a great product. While the two pursuits are clearly related to one another on the way to great product design, it’s rare that one person should excel at both.
The people who design groundbreaking machine learning algorithms aren’t necessarily the people who design a groundbreaking consumer product, and vice versa. They need each other’s help to understand each other.
But data is the shared language that makes understanding possible. Not everyone has years of data science training, not everyone has business leadership experience, but even people doing menial things can still benefit from great access to data. Coming across the year’s growth goal, for example, might trigger a needle-moving idea from someone on how to actually get there. Great things happen when employees build a shared understanding of the raw numbers that drive everything they do.
Businesses already collect so much data in the course of their day-to-day operations. But they could start using that data more effectively by bringing it out from behind the curtain, presenting employees across the board with easy access and interaction for it. The motivation for doing so should be clear: when more people think about the same problem in the same terms, that problem is more likely to be solved.
All they need is access to the data that makes it possible.
Author: Simone Di Somma