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How SQL Can Help You Democratize Data in Your Company

Are you drowning in an ocean of data but lack the staff to find the treasures in it? Do bottlenecks clog your data and reporting processes? Have you heard about data democratization and wondered what all the fuss is about? In this article, we answer your questions!

If you are a part of an organization that works with data, limited access is one of your biggest bottlenecks. It impedes data-related processes and prevents you from generating insights about your business. Data collection and management becomes a huge cost item with no generated value attached to it.

The core reason behind this situation is that the access to and skills to use data are limited. As a result, analytical pathways become heavily centralized.

This problem is so widespread that an entire trend emerged to solve it: data democratization. In this article, you will learn what data democratization is, why it emerged, and how it benefits your organization. You will learn about our number one tip to increase data democratization in your organization and the resources you can use to achieve it.

But first, let’s have a closer look at the problem!

The Problem of the 21st Century Organization: The Underuse of Overabundant Data

Your company has lots of data. This data could provide valuable insights to move the needle on critical issues.

However, you and your employees cannot access these insights. You have a limited view of your business, and you lose out on opportunities.

“Why is that?” You might wonder.

As many other companies do, your company maintains a database or even a data warehouse. You need specific skills to use it, like querying, joining tables, and producing reports. And you need to be able to do this in an organized and analytical manner for long-term results.

Without these skills, you just cannot make use of your company’s data.

You and your employees have to ask the people who have these skills: database administrators and developers. However, this makes them overburdened with queries. The result is a severe bottleneck, slowing down data-related processes.

Another issue with this situation is that database administrators have little exposure to your company’s business problems and everyday operations. They do not know what is important in the data, while your domain experts do not know what you have in your data. This situation makes data queries reactive and limited in terms of the range of insights.

Not only are you working hard to maintain your data warehouse, but you barely have access to your data. And the insights you can generate are suboptimal. This just does not sound right!

What you need is a better data management process to draw conclusions from the data collected by the company. This process should provide access to the end users of your data and free up your database experts.

Enter data democratization!

Data Democratization

"The goal of Data Democratization is to allow non-specialists to have the ability to gather and analyze data without requiring outside help." (source)

Data democratization emerged as a solution to the problem of limited and over-centralized data access. Just as other business trends, it has many variations and elements.

Bernard Marr, in his book, “Big Data in Practice”, describes how Walmart made their vast amount of data accessible for any part of their business.

Around 2011, when Walmart rebuilt their data infrastructure based on Hadoop (a distributed data management system), they created an analytics hub called Data Cafe. The primary purpose of this hub was to serve anyone in the organization with insights about their operations.

Jeremy King, the Walmart CTO, described this approach as building “data democracy.” In an organization with multiples of petabytes of data, this produced striking results:

“[The] Data Cafe system has led to a reduction in the time it takes from a problem being spotted in the numbers to a solution being proposed from an average of two to three weeks down to around 20 minutes.” (source)

 

And, of course, Walmart was not the only one who did this. Other companies with the same data pains followed suit.

Many of them went even further. They did not use a central hub to distribute analytics throughout the entire company, but they made it possible for their employees to access and analyze data directly.

Researchers from Texas A&M University recently reviewed the available literature and examples of this trend. The table below list their notable examples:

FirmExampleBenefits Accrued
AirbnbData University50% decrease in ad hoc data requests
ViacomAudience ScienceMore effective marketing campaigns
Audience response better recorded
Royal Bank of ScotlandAdvanced Analytics PlatformMore effective customer management with a 30% increase in loan applications
WalmartData CafeBetter sales and quicker analysis time

Examples of data democratization in companies (source)

As their research, Marr’s book, and many further examples attest, data democratization became the primary approach to make better use of an organization’s data. And now this is becoming true not only for big companies but also for smaller ones.

Benefits of Data Democratization in Your Company

“This is all nice,” you might think, “but how exactly does data democratization benefit specifically me and my company?” In this section, we will talk precisely about that.

In a nutshell, democratizing data improves the data processes within your company. This leads to improved data pipelines, fewer bottlenecks, and more valuable insights.

We can break down the benefits into the following categories based on our research of other sources (an example):

  • Inclusivity in data analysis.
  • Data availability.
  • Efficiency.
  • Increased engagement.
  • Improved customer experience.

Let’s discuss them in detail!

Inclusivity in Data Analysis

Data democratization allows the understanding of the importance of data not only by the analysts but the entire team – including non-IT employees in the data collection process. With their experience and practical approach to data, perhaps it will be possible to develop even more effective procedures.

Data Availability: Self-Service Analytics

Data democratization makes data available to everyone. This leads to better and faster decisions at the level of departments and managers. No more waiting for the report from the IT department! Now teams and individual managers will be able to prepare it themselves.

Efficiency

Data democratization saves money and cuts costs. You no longer need an additional data science expert or business analyst for simple reports. Your data engineers and database administrators can now focus on building and improving your data infrastructure.

Increased Engagement

The democratization of data makes employees more involved in the “big picture” of the organization. They understand better why things happen the way they do and their role within them. They can provide better feedback based on their view of the high-level context.

Improved Customer Experience

Data democracy leads to a better customer experience. Closing the gap between customer touch points and analytics leads to better insights and service at various sales funnel stages.

So, these are the main benefits of data democracy. Now that we have learned about these benefits, we could move on to the specific ways by which you can democratize data in your organization.

Components of Data Democratization

Data democratization can have multiple components. For example, the AI & Data Analytics Network lists the following groups:

  • Self-service analytics: How can users access your data?
  • Data literacy: Who can access your data?
  • Data governance: How do you use and manage your data and analytics?
  • Data visualization: How can you present the data?
  • Data security: How do you secure your data?
  • Data warehouses and data lakes: Where do you store your data?
Dataframe

While all of these components are important, some of them are more important than others.

Without data literacy (and to some degree, self-service analytics and proper data storage), data democratization is not possible. To use data, people need to have the skills to query and interpret data and produce reports.

If you want to implement data democratization in your organization, the most important thing is to increase the overall data literacy of your employees.

So, what exactly is data literacy, and how do you improve it within your organization?

Data Literacy and Data Democratization

Data literacy means that people who would be the beneficiaries of the data stored in the organization have the skillset to query, read, and interpret it.

“The ability to decipher, derive meaning from and use data as information, much like one would do with knowledge gleaned from reading a book” (source)

However, this is a skill in great need even among executives. According to Accenture:

"Only 32 percent of business executives surveyed said that they’re able to create measurable value from data, while just 27 percent said their data and analytics projects produce actionable insights." (source)

The best path toward data democratization is to acquire and spread the skill with which you and your colleagues can access, work with, and interpret the data in your company.

The most straightforward way to do this is to teach them SQL. There are many reasons for this:

But enough arguments. Let’s see a concrete example from a company that has facilitated data democracy by improving SQL data literacy throughout its organization.

Case Study: Spreading Data Democracy in Uber

Are you curious about how other organizations have democratized their data processes? We at Vertabelo have been working closely with companies boosting their data and SQL literacy. For example, we helped Uber empower thousands of its employees to become confident in SQL.

Before our partnership, Uber had been experimenting with more traditional courses and in-person workshops. However, these proved to be unscalable and too rigid because of their changing data infrastructure.

Our teaching platform allowed Uber to level up the SQL skills of its new employees at scale. Our solution was adaptable to its ever-changing database structure. Because it was a tailor-made solution, it provided users with an overview of the company’s key business metrics.

As a result, based on our measurements, people who took the course became 20 times more proactive in their data querying practices. They became more informed and less reliant on data experts.

Imagine that in your organization!

Democratize Your Data!

So, would you like to improve the SQL skills of your organization and democratize data practices? Are you wondering about what the best tools are to get started with it?

Here are the resources to get you started!

If you just want to introduce someone to SQL, you can send them to our blog. There, they can find many examples for learning and practicing SQL right away. We cover topics from SQL fundamentals, through report creation, to domain-specific applications like using SQL with Google Analytics and financial data. These posts show what one can achieve with SQL and even allow the reader to apply nice tricks in their everyday job.

If you are more serious about improving the skills of your colleagues and employees, you can check out our courses or learning tracks. These teach all one needs to know to work with data or in a specific business setting.

Finally, reach out to us if you want a solution that improves SQL and data literacy tailored to your specific data usage and management practice! We will assess your situation and requirements and provide you with a customized offer.

So, are you ready to democratize the data processes in your organization? Let us know!

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