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The Case for Employee Data Self-Service, Part 3

This is the third post in a three-part series on data democratization.
Jun | 4 | 2014


Jun | 4 | 2014

This is the third post in a three-part series.

In my second post in this series, I examined two of the main benefits of employee self-service: greater speed and increased employee accountability. I argued that removing IT from the middle of data requests is not only more efficient, but it places the onus of data quality and ownership squarely where it should be: on the shoulders of those generating and inputting the data.

Today I’ll argue that empowering employees with data offers two additional benefits to organizations brave enough to trust them.

More Skilled Employees

I’ve said many times that every company is becoming a technology company. Ditto for data. To be sure, there will always be dataphobes and naysayers like Bruce Feiler of the New York Times, but in the business world the geeks have indeed inherited the earth. As Tom Davenport writes on HBR:

Today it’s not just information firms and online companies that can create products and services from analyses of data. It’s every firm in every industry. [Emphasis mine.] If your company makes things, moves things, consumes things, or works with customers, you have increasing amounts of data on those activities. Every device, shipment, and consumer leaves a trail. You have the ability to analyze those sets of data for the benefit of customers and markets. You also have the ability to embed analytics and optimization into every business decision made at the front lines of your operations.

True dat.

Billy Beane of Moneyball fame and Nate Silver are cases in point: there’s significant upside to using analytical approaches to previously “data-free” fields. Is it any coincidence that Big-Data behemoths like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, and others are so valuable?

Empowering employees with data may be more of a marathon than a sprint.

Note that granting employees access to data does not mean that data will always rule the day. Contrary to popular belief about data and the death of creativity, progressive companies combine hard data with good old-fashioned intuition. For instance, Amazon Prime initially cost $79 per year based upon senior executive gut feeling, not any data or extensive analysis “proving” that that was the right number.

Better Decisions and Results

Equipped with more information and the skills with which to make sense of it, it stands to reason that, all else being equal, an organization will increase its odds of making better decisions and seeing better results. (Of course, there’s no guarantee here. As management guru Peter Drucker famously opined, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.)

Culture is very much at the heart of successful organizational change. Deploying a new tool often does not produce an immediate short-term benefit, especially if that tool requires embracing a new mind-set. Employees may find needles in haystacks, some of which may drive significant innovation, cost savings, and revenue opportunities. People who work with data on a regular basis tend to get more comfortable with it–and better at using it.

Simon Says: Don’t Underestimate the Human Element

In concluding this series, it’s important to remember that many people (from IT, the line, the C-suite) will resist change. Empowering employees with data and the tools to understand it will threaten many people accustomed to rigidly defined roles and responsibilities. Understand that going in.

It’s a marathon more than a sprint.

PROG_LogoWhile the words and opinions in this post are my own, Progress Software has compensated me to write it.

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