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Data Democratisation: How to Navigate Workplace Transparency Carefully

Data Democratisation: How to Navigate Workplace Transparency Carefully

Data democratisation can improve workplace transparency, but it comes with risks. Here's how companies can democratise data safely.

As employees place a higher value on their company’s organisational culture, the value of transparency has become much more essential to the workplace today, as well. Employees want to trust in the people and the organisation they work for and they want to feel part of the company by being privy to information about the company.  

The idea of democratising data, or allowing everyone in an organisation to have access to key information about a company, is in line with this demand for more transparency. Data democratisation can empower employees because they will feel more integrated as they understand the business better through data. 

On the other hand, you should handle data responsibly and perform any disclosure at the right time and in the proper manner. Not everyone can handle data properly. It is your organisation's responsibility to provide training and data governance policies to ensure that data is managed appropriately. 

How does data democratisation support transparency in the workplace? 

Data democratisation means making data more available to everyone in an organisation, regardless of their role in the company. Both technical and non-technical users will have universal access to the organisation’s information so they can all leverage data for business purposes. 

Data democratisation is a crucial step towards creating a more transparent, data-driven organisation. Traditionally, data analysis fell to technical users like data scientists. But thanks to the rise of no-code/low-code apps and software that make data crunching easier, everyone in the company can gather their data and generate insights. 

But concerns are mounting as the amount of data consumers intentionally and unintentionally provide grows. According to Security Brief Asia, 65% of Singapore organisations were hit by ransomware attacks in 2021 – double than what it was the previous year. 

However, Singapore is pushing its way forward, becoming more and more data-driven. According to CPA Australia’s Business Technology Report 2022, Singapore had the most respondents expecting their employer to increase the use of data analytics and visualisation software (53%), and they were also the least worried about data privacy (10%). The uptake is likely because high-growth Singaporeans are well aware of the pros, which include improved operational efficiency and cost savings. 

The Singapore government encourages SMEs to utilise data analytics to scale up their businesses. The Infocomm Media Development Authority created the Better Data-Driven Business programme to encourage SMEs to use business intelligence tools and effectively analyse data to stay competitive in today’s economy.

What are the benefits of democratising data? 

Enhances customer experience  Organisations that offer easy access to data can enable their people to support customers’ needs more easily. Having access to key information means employees can better navigate customers’ demands and adapt to their changing tastes. 

Increases competitiveness Companies that democratise their data can help generate more targeted insights about their performance and in turn can make them operate more competitively in the industry. 

Builds trust  Having access to information makes employees feel more integrated with the organisation. Feeling like you’re part of the organisation would make an employee more engaged, productive and motivated to come to work each day. 

Creates a collaborative atmosphere  With everyone having access to data, the workforce can support each other better by discussing the information already at hand. This can also help foster innovation with everyone putting their heads together. 

Empowers employees  Giving the workforce access to information provides an opportunity for employees to help drive business growth. Moreover, if your organisation’s data is centralised and easily accessible, employees will find it easier to work more efficiently.

Empowers business leaders  Leaders need quick and easy access to business data to do their jobs more efficiently. Having easy access to information can help them make decisions faster.

How can companies democratise data?

Data science publication Dataconomy outlines the following tips for democratising data in organisations:

Identify data sources.  What data sources are available within your company? Once you’ve figured out whether you’re using customer relationship management (CRM) systems or other platforms, you can develop a strategy to make the data more accessible to the people who need it. 

Define data governance policies.  Accessing data is a big responsibility. Putting data governance policies in place can help ensure people use the data responsibly. Data governance policies include establishing data quality standards, data sharing agreements, and data access procedures, among others. Kellogg School of Management Associate Professor Joel Shapiro warns companies not to take data democratisation to the extreme. 

Organisations should figure out which employees should have access to data and when, as not everyone can handle all forms of data. 

Provide tools and resources for data access.  User-friendly tools, like data visualisation tools, data analytics software or data portals, can help more people access and use data effectively. It widens access from just the data scientists and analysts to even the non-technical users. For example, the sales team would be able to get data about what consumers are buying firsthand instead of going through the data team before they can gather insights. 

Offer training and support for data analysis.  Because you’re widening the pool of data users to include non-technical employees, your organisation would need to offer them training and support on how to use these new tools. Coca-Cola, for example, established a digital academy to upskill its people across business operations. Graduates of this academy were able to implement about 20 digital, automation and analytics approaches, boosting productivity by over 20%.

Employees who understand the bottomline realise their value to the company and end up much more productive. You could even add this as part of your EVP, helping you attract talent interested in improving their data literacy. 

Encourage collaboration and sharing of insights. The organisation should make the most of having access to data by encouraging collaboration and sharing of insights among their people. Deloitte recommends that aside from data democratisation, organisations should also look into democratising insight. An insight-driven organisation uses data to generate observations and then turns those into action. 

What are the risks of democratising data? 

The Forbes Tech Council gathered several experts who shared their insight on what to consider when democratising data:

  • Low-fidelity conclusions – As an organisation comprises people with varying skill sets in terms of handling data, there is a possibility that employees will make low-fidelity conclusions about the data they are analysing. When people are in a hurry or expressing a bias, they risk inaccurately interpreting the data. 

  • Data misuse – Expanding the number of people who have access to your company’s data also means putting your company at a higher risk. There is a higher chance of confidential or sensitive information being leaked or irresponsibly used. Employing data governance policies that establish guidelines and clear regulations can help prevent this from happening. 

  • Junk data – Everyone being able to input their data can make it possible for junk data to enter your database. Organisations should train employees to curate data properly to ensure data quality. 

  • A data free-for-all – Without proper governance over data, giving access to everyone may mean a lack of structure and ownership of the data available. Your organisation is in danger of creating more work and effort for employees when looking for the data they need because nobody knows who is responsible for what. 

  • Information overload – Because there’s so much data, there is a chance of getting overwhelmed by having so much information at hand. This can hamper one’s ability to analyse the data and lead to a false sense of expertise. Providing ample training on how to handle data can help employees learn which data to use and how to interpret them correctly. 

Supreeth Rao, CTO of AI early warning system Theom calls data democratisation a “one-way street.” Because data is so fluid, once you start democratising your data, there is no going back. Organisations should plan carefully before deciding to pursue such an endeavour.

For organisations looking towards cultivating transparency in their workplace, data democratisation is a method that is worth considering. However, giving access to data is also risky. Organisations should be vigilant in managing their data and train their people to ensure that the workforce is using data appropriately and responsibly. 

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is transparency in the workplace?  A transparent workplace is one where the employer and employee have open lines of communication and can discuss business matters, such as the company’s performance, the business strategy, the employee’s career growth, and more. 

Why is workplace transparency important?  Workplace transparency keeps an employee engaged in the organisation. If management gives them information about the business, they get to understand their role better and how it impacts the organisation as a whole. 

What is data democratisation?  Data democratisation means making data more available to everyone in an organisation, regardless of their role in the company. Data democratisation is one way an organisation can become more transparent to its workforce. 

How can an organisation democratise their data?

Once a company decides to offer access to their information, they should:

  • Identify data sources

  • Define data governance policies

  • Provide tools for data access

  • Offer training and support for data analysis

  • Encourage collaboration and sharing of insights

What are the risks of democratising data? Handling data comes with many risks, including:

  • Low-fidelity conclusions

  • Data misuse

  • Junk data

  • Data free-for-all

  • Information overload

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