Welcome to the Data Democracy

November 12, 2015 • By Atlantic Re:Think • Blog Post

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IN THIS ARTICLE

  • Data analytics tools are becoming available to people on the front lines of operations, like salespeople and warehouse workers
  • The democratization of data empowers people with the insight they need to do their jobs better

A flood of data promises to transform global enterprises by pushing executive-suite intelligence to every level of the company

Data has always been essential to businesses. It is critical to helping them maintain a competitive advantage, set strategy and allocate resources. Traditionally, it was expensive and time-consuming to generate and distribute, and so access to it was restricted to those at the top. Today, these barriers no longer stand in the way.

 

The amount of data being collected from cell phones, the Internet and sensors, on everything from home thermostats to the national infrastructure, is exploding. Well over 90 percent of all data created and stored since the dawn of human history has been generated in the last several years. At the same time, new tools have emerged to make data easier and less expensive to access and manage, and the fact that advanced forms of information technology are now commonly available for public use has raised expectations for better IT in the workplace.

 

"People in businesses today expect to access business insights with the same kind of ease and user-friendliness we get from all the newer services we know", says Martin Risau, senior vice president of analytics and data management practice at Hewlett Packard Enterprises services group. "They are saying, 'Why shouldnt accessing the information we need for our business be as easy as Googling information on the web?"'

 

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As a result, business-critical information and the tools to analyze it are finding their way to people in all parts of an organization. Not only to those at the top, but to middle managers and, most importantly, to people at the front lines of operations-like those interacting with customers or workers in a warehouse. Empowering these groups with the insight they need to do their jobs better is the recipe for a companys competitiveness and growth.

The democratization of data, as this trend toward broader distribution is called, has the potential to transform business. It can help companies be more efficient and agile, predict more accurately and react more quickly and use global data to influence local decisions that can have a direct effect on customer satisfaction, employee engagement and businesses top and bottom lines.

 

"There are a huge number of things that data can do across an entire business", says Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute.

 

For example, data and analytics tools can help a store manager for a global apparel retailer predict what customers will buy on a local level. It can equip her with detailed information, not only about national trends, but trends within her city as well as available inventory and other pertinent facts. These tools may help the store manager decide what inventory to buy, and may also help her analyze her own A/B tests to optimize the way that inventory is presented. Will one display perform better than another? The store manager and her staff will no longer have to guess.

 

On the flip side, the information from this store and others can quickly move back up the supply chain, allowing those at different levels to see sales trends, optimize inventory and get it back into stores much more rapidly than they would have been able to do before.

 

"We're now seeing more and more capability, more and more potential data and more and more analyses that can be delivered across the entire enterprise", Chui says.

 

Risau calls the democratization of data "the next competitive differentiation and frontier" in enterprises today.

 

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"There's so much information out there. If youre not using it, how are you going to provide better products and services to your customers?" he asks. "At the very core of it, companies are in fierce competition to always provide better products or services, be they new or existing products. And if you are not using a variety of data across the entire organization in a very immersive way to gain insight, then you will fail. By bringing this insight to the people that can act upon it, you empower people in your organization and become more competitive."

 

More than just abundant, the data that enterprises have at their disposal today is far more varied than it was before. Businesses can collect location and time details and other personal characteristics about customers with each transaction. Sensors and other devices embedded in the physical world-the so-called Internet of Things-are providing enormous amounts of automated real-time data. Enterprises will increasingly factor voice, sound, images, videos and even language from social media posts into their business-intelligence mix.

 

"There are real business-relevant signals in all of these types of media", Chui says, "and were seeing a lot of innovation in tools and techniques to try to analyze those things and analyze trends and consumer sentiment. So if you think these sources and types of data are relevant for making business decisions, and in many cases those decisions have to be made on an increasingly local level, then you have to ask yourself, how can you bring the tools that allow you to use these new sources of data to the person who can best make use of that data and those insights."

"Figuring out how to use all of this raw material is key. The democratization of data has limited value unless people understand how to analyze and interpret it. This is where analytics comes in", says Michael Rappa, Ph.D., founding director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics and a member of the faculty in the department of computer science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. "It's the difference between having data and knowing what to do with it."

 

Companies like Hewlett Packard Enterprise are helping all kinds of companies meet that challenge, offering the "critical components needed to deliver intelligence into every business process across an organization", says Ken Elliott, global director of analytics at Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

 

Elliott notes, Hewlett Packard Enterprise provides tools and services that make it possible for businesses to harness all types of relevant data (structured or unstructured, data in motion or data at rest, Big Data or small data) and rapidly generate intelligence from this data. The company can then test the new insights to assess their potential impact and make the results available to all relevant parts of the business. "In this way", he says, "insights from data are released from the confines of an analysts laptop and made broadly available to impact every relevant business interaction."

 

Risau notes, for example, that Hewlett Packard Enterprise has worked with the automotive industry to democratize data in a way that can have a direct effect on the customer. "If you bring your car to a dealership and say, I hear a strange noise if I make a right turn, for example, this is valuable information", he says. If that dealer notes what youve said and other dealers are noting similar issues with other customers and the automaker is also gathering information from sources like social media, dealers can act on this insight faster and customers will get better serviced or alerted about how to avoid similar issues.

 

Beyond that, the "connected car" of the future will actually be able to alert manufacturers, repair shops and drivers to mechanical problems before they develop.

 

"To empower a broad range of people you need the infrastructure, software and services to make that happen", Risau says, adding that Hewlett Packard Enterprise is dedicated to delivering those elements to their customers, giving people at every level of the company exactly the information they need when they need it.

 

In that endeavor, he says, there is plenty of room for growth. "The industry is just at the beginning of empowering people with data."

 

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