The 5 step plan to bridge the data chasm

It feels as though organizations have been dealing with exponential data growth forever.

Statista estimates that 97 zettabytes of data will be created in 2022 – this is up from 79 in 2021, and just 2 back in 2010. By 2025, the figure is projected to reach a massive 181 zettabytes. 

However, despite this growth, the way data is used and stored has largely remained the same. Data can be difficult to access and its usage seems daunting. As a result, there is a huge amount of potential that remains untapped. 

This has led to a veritable chasm between the internally available data that could be used to benefit businesses, and the positive impact that it has in reality. Insights remain submerged in stagnating data lakes when they could instead be delivering value to the teams that need them most – a change of mindset is urgently needed.

Companies should be applying the same thought process to data that they would to a product. This means it should be packaged appropriately and accompanied by compelling messaging to create a sense of desire amongst potential end-users. 

Owners should be designated for different data types, with the remit of optimizing it, selling it (internally and/or externally) and creating a roadmap for its use. These owners should also consider the ‘reputation’ of their data amongst relevant stakeholders. As with products and services, the net promoter score for data can serve as a useful indicator of its current performance. 

By applying product thinking to data in small, agile increments via the following 5 steps, we can close the chasm between availability and tangible value. 

  1. Encourage conversations

Bridging the data chasm starts with effective communication. The initial conversation should be focused on appointing a suitable ‘data product manager’ or ‘data owner’ for particular data sets. This doesn’t need to be a formal position initially – it could fall under the remit of a data manager or finance manager, for instance. 

Key to the role of a data product manager is getting the relevant business leaders in a room (or virtual space) together to explore the potential value of data. Enablement campaigns should also be launched in order to publicize data and its capabilities across the organization.  Start these conversations by having an offering along the lines of “if we gave you insights on X, what could you potentially do with it? How might it help you?”

  1. Get stakeholders excited

The next step is all about building hype about the potential of data, as you would with any other product. Exciting and ideally profitable case studies that demonstrate how data has benefitted other teams and departments can be invaluable in terms of generating data advocacy and securing further interest.

  1. Decentralize data ownership

As companies become larger, the number of data applications can reach hundreds – at which point it becomes infeasible for a central data team of four or five engineers to service all of them effectively. Backlogs will develop, leading to frustration, delays and disappointment on all sides. 

To avoid this situation, companies such as Saxo Bank and Netflix have found success implementing platforms that provide tools, frameworks and systems to let people on the fringes self-publish their data via self-serve centrally owned infrastructure.

This can be done departmentally and on a rolling basis, beginning with conversations about how it can be made easy for team members to input their data into a central model. As these projects become successful, they can then be used to secure further buy-in across other teams – similar to a franchise business model.

  1. Prevent data hoarding

Whilst data protection legislation such as GDPR has created a lot of good practice, it has also produced an unintended culture of data gatekeeping. Some employees have become reluctant to share data even for legitimate reasons, and in some organizations data stockpiling has become a status symbol where power dynamics come into play. 

This attitude is a barrier to progress. Data governance should be about enablement wherever possible, and sharing information with the right people, for the right purpose. Appointing data stewards (either as a formal role or informal ‘hat’) can help with this. Such a role should give equal weight to protecting data and unlocking its value.

  1. Incentivize data use

Even if all the data your organization possesses is available for legitimate usage, employees must want to interact with it, or all your efforts and investment will be wasted. This step is also about creating a cultural shift – one in which the benefits of data access become clear, and people are afraid of missing out on the improvements data could provide for them in their day-to-day roles. 

The best way to instil this attitude is to implement it at executive level and allow it to permeate the organization from there. Data usage should become part of objective setting. Senior leaders must be given the responsibility to demonstrate the impact data has had on their annual results and KPIs. 

With all of this in place, data will soon be appreciated for the competitive advantages it can offer, and the results will start pouring in. It’s time to drain the data lake. 

About the Author

As Director of Enterprise Data at Kin + Carta Europe, Rob Wadsworth helps large organisations unlock data’s potential, through product thinking and computational data governance, atop modern data platforms. Rob is passionate about implementing data-as-a-product into the enterprise environment. Prior to Kin + Carta, Robert worked at Co-op, where he aided in the transformation of the businesses’ data capabilities as Head of Data Platforms & Engineering.