Data flows into organizations from dozens of channels, in any number of formats. And, like an unruly child, data is often messy and doesn’t play well with others. It lives in the cloud and on individual machines, in legacy systems of all types.
It’s a difficult job to wrangle all this data — or it used to be.
“Computers themselves, and software yet to be developed, will revolutionize the way we learn.”
— Steve Jobs
Instead of clamping down on data flow, forward-thinking companies now embrace trends like data democratization, or the increased accessibility of data resources via end-to-end self-service analytics platforms.
Data democratization is especially relevant for departments that have taken some of the analysis load from a centralized IT team. This comes alive in different forms, from self-trained analysts embedded in the department, to a “data champion” with the technology and moxie to uncover something thrilling from anywhere in the company.
Until recently, departments didn’t have direct access to certain types of data or data tools. Sure, marketing could look at Google Analytics, but they had to make a database request from IT to see anything from a company-wide system like the ERP.
These days, more and more companies are embracing data democratization and reaping the benefits of data analysis with a twist of department-specific expertise. Expanding access to data to just anyone may still seem strange to some, but as Steve Jobs would say, “Here’s to the crazy ones.”
Department Leaders’ Goldilocks Problem
Leaders have a unique opportunity to enable their teams with the data and technology they can use to glean insights. It’s never been easier for departments to examine their own data and derive their own answers.
But departments are inherently heterogeneous; diverse roles report up to the business lead. It can be difficult to lead a diverse group with varying levels of technical savviness.
The Three S’s of a Future-Proofed Analytics Platform
Forward-thinking leaders jump at the chance to democratize their data. But that data will be useless without a solution that enables departmental team members to garner insights. To enact your future-proofed strategy, your software needs to be:
.01 Simple and highly adoptable
It makes sense, right? If you want adoption and usage across the widest group possible, your software needs to be easy to use.
Sadly, UserIQ reports that 75% of SaaS companies spend up to half their week dealing with user adoption initiatives. Their software may be smart, but if learning is a major time-suck, your adoption rates will plummet and your team will find little value in the software.
Your team needs to spend their time analyzing, not learning and managing a difficult platform. If the software is user-friendly, more team members will adopt it and use more robust features within the platform.
“I think Alteryx fits very well with Nike’s tagline ‘Just Do It’ because with Alteryx you can just blend it.”
— Kenneth van Wanrooij, Pre-season Marketplace Operations Manager, Nike
Look for software with quick time to value. Self-guided tours, guided onboarding programs, and easy templates for common use cases will help your team get up to speed quickly.
Also, watch for visual displays and dashboards. You’ll want a simple and easy-to-navigate user interface (UI). Ask your least-savvy colleague to perform a simple task. If they can complete the task without much confusion, you are on the right path.
Software has become much simpler to use in recent years. Drag-and-drop functionality is just the start. Visual displays, code-free tools, and lots of support from online communities ensures an easy onboarding process.
.02 Strategic to meet your business goals
The solution you adopt for your department should be strategic; tasks and results should directly ladder up to business goals.
In fact, don’t consider software a cost; instead, speak about it as an investment. And like any investment, you expect to see results (a return on that investment) over time.
Department leaders can set themselves up for success by proving the platform’s ROI on three levels:
Your team’s business case: Perform a current-state assessment by cataloging the technology currently in use, the gap between what you have and what you need, and an outline of possible solutions. You will make a stronger case for your department to receive the software, while also repurposing the current-state analysis as the structure for your first software review.
Your company’s business case: Before purchasing a software platform, outline exactly how software functionality helps achieve company goals. Consider both direct (increased revenue, profit margins, market share, etc.) and indirect (saved time, saved money, repurposed human capital, etc.) options to show value to the company.
Another team’s business case: Data democratization is opening up software options to your department that never existed before. Your team isn’t the only one drowning in data but starving for insights. Don’t forget: Company accountants love it when teams can share the cost of software. Bring in other teams to demonstrate an expansion opportunity to your software sales team.
You + IT = BFFs
The strongest business cases are often created when department leaders pair up with IT.
A common scenario:
- A department leader makes the case for Alteryx Designer to prep, blend, analyze, and model department data
- The IT leader makes the case for Alteryx Server to share and scale analytics applications and models across the organization
- The analyst makes the case for Alteryx Intelligence Suite for text mining and model building features.
When paired, the department and IT requests are stronger together. The department moves to a self-service model and requests less from IT. IT now has an easy way to deploy data-intensive analytics across the organization, benefitting additional departments.
See how Jordan Howell, Lead Data Analyst at Amway, talks about how his team has developed a more collaborative relationship with IT to drive more value for business decision-makers with Alteryx:
.03 Shareable and accessible to the entire org
Finally, the platform needed to future-proof your analytics strategy must be accessible to different roles, while still generating insights and business value. Additionally, the output of the platform needs to be shareable with leadership. Managers and the C-Suite must understand the business value of the technology in which they’ve invested.
This is not to say that your C-level stakeholders are going to be firing up your shiny new analytics platform; rather, you’ll have a completely explainable workflow to walk them through your thought process. As one Alteryx user explained, “I shared this workflow with business and for the first time ever we were able to work through and capture exactly what they wanted without them looking at me like I am an alien (because I am showing them SQL code).”
Look for a platform that is both code-friendly for your data scientists and code-free for your analysts and other users in the department.
- Code-friendly means pulling from R, Python, Apache Spark, and Hadoop with ease or quickly incorporating advanced analytics into your workflows. Data scientists can geek out with code, but still share their results with the rest of the team in plain language.
- Code-free means jumping in with a wide range of preconfigured statistical and predictive models, plus visualytics to see your results as you go. Analysts who don’t love or aren’t trained in code really dig these options.
Department teams are becoming more agile and responsive as data democratization pushes more data work their way. Department leaders will satisfy the needs of all their users by adopting software that is equally friendly to data analysts, IT, and data scientists in the company.
Why Alteryx is central to Daimler’s big data strategy and cross-departmental collaboration efforts:
“It has been an amazing transition for my team to start using Alteryx — to go from manual, tedious, cumbersome processes where we still didn’t have insight into the data to a world where we have self-service analytics.”
— Dawn Rinehart, TCO Manager, Daimler Trucks North America
What Does Your Technology Say About You?
Steve Jobs said it best: Our tools define us. They shape who we are and how we experience life.
As data democratization and other trends evolve, departmental leaders will have more options available, more technology at the ready. All signs point to more access and more self-service remaining prominent trends for years to come.
“Data is the way we see in the internet. Light brings us information about the real world, but numbers tell us about everything online …. Data gathering, collating, curating, and parsing will continue to be one of the most important jobs for the enterprise.”
— “11 Predictions of the Future of Programming,” InfoWorld, January 2017
Look for an APA platform that is simple to use, delivers strategic value, and is shareable among various roles and levels. Follow the three S’s to support your future-proofed analytics strategy.