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  • Writer's pictureNick Bonney

Don't Democratise Data... Make it Drive Action

It seems we cannot move these days for yet another piece of software which promises to put ‘data at our fingertips’. The promise of ‘data democratisation’ has long been a buzzword within large corporate organisations who are aiming to break down silos within their business and ensure all stakeholders have the information they need without having to rely on central resource.

Consultants build business cases promising ‘marketing effectiveness cockpits’ and, for the Star Wars fans amongst us, we conjure up images of every brand manager making instant data-driven decisions as their brand speeds to new inter-galactic success.

The reality is somewhat different and, for most organisations, dashboards are, quite rightly, the beginning and not the end of the story. With all the excitement around the possibilities that ‘Big Data’ can unlock for ‘Big Businesses’, it seems some of the fundamentals around organisational change are often forgotten.

Back in the 1990’s, Bruce Schneier popularised the concept of the ‘Golden Triangle’; the idea that people, process and technology need to work in harmony for any system change to take effect. Whilst it’s not fashionable to look at such historical concepts these days, it seems the concept of the Golden Triangle applies more than ever in a work environment where we are swamped rather than starved of data.

So many tools are available in this area now. Tableau and Qlik have established themselves as the enterprise giants in this space alongside the Microsoft Power BI suite.  Even stalwarts like SAP have been forced to play catch up in this area initially through the acquisition of Roambi and more recently through the $8bn acquisition of Qualtrics (it remains to be seen if/ how these different elements of the portfolio will come together). For those who like a bit of power to crunch, tools like Tibco Spotfire and Alteryx have more analytical capability under the hood but can be less ‘pretty’ for the end user out of the box. Finally, if you want to build your own, developers have a host of JS tools available to enable them to build bespoke dashboards in house. You can find a good round up of these tools here:

However, having led implementations of Qlik, Adobe and Spotfire in previous roles, it always feels too much is written about the tech rather than underlying principles which make or break an implementation. Why, for example, based on the same technology platform would one trading team adopt a new tool but another within the same organisation choose to shun it?

Start with an end in mind

This may sound like a ‘no brainer’ but it’s amazing how often the end goal can get lost along the various steercos to get budgets approved and the ongoing project implementation meetings. Any dashboard roll-out needs to be solving a clear business challenge or opportunity. Just because you can surface a piece of data, doesn’t mean you should unless it’s going to drive a business change.

Democratising the data, simply ‘putting it out there’ just won’t work. Decision makers are simply deluged with information. An MIT survey found that 60% of sales managers found they believe they have too much data and a similar Reuters survey found that two in three managers believed data had made their job less satisfying. Just because we’re so close to it, don’t believe there are swathes of managers out there crying for more and more data!

Think clearly about the change you’re trying to affect:

Is it about reducing the time to make a critical decision? Is it about making certain business processes more effective or more efficient? Is it about changing the nature of the conversation, highlighting hitherto hidden gems?

Most importantly, write this objective down and stay true to it… it’s so easy to get distracted by the power of the tool (s) that you can lose sight of why you were trying to build the dashboard in the first place!

Beware the sacred cows

The second part of Schneier’s Golden Triangle was process.

Any change to systems or underlying data needs to align to the central processes of the business. Part of the rationale for any dashboard roll out maybe to remove/ streamline a regular meeting e.g. trading meeting, customer feedback meeting, weekly stand up etc.

However, this is where the implementation swiftly moves from the rational to emotional territory. Often these meetings are celebrated ‘rituals’ within the organisation. Whilst they may get decried in corridor chat, there may be a status associated with being on the distribution list or the running of the meeting may afford an individual with organisational power they otherwise wouldn’t have.

This isn’t to say that these organisational totems shouldn’t be challenged but it’s important to think about these implications as part of any roll out.

Who are the key stakeholders that any organisational change could impact? How can you get them on-board early? Can they ‘sponsor’ the roll out so that any change is seen as modernising their process rather than undermining their power-base?

Start with the people and finish with the people

This leads to the final part of Schneier’s Golden Triangle – people.

Driving change within teams is a long game. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the promising early signs of adoption – we all love the new and often there’s a surge in interest and usage for any new dashboard roll out.

However, this doesn’t guarantee the tool is going to be used longer term – this requires sustained effort both from central teams and end users. In many ways, a successful implementation of a data visualisation/ dashboarding tool is no different to other system-based changes but I’ve always found the following elements to be critical to success.

SENIOR SPONSORSHIP - Depending on the governance within your organisation this may be required as a matter of course for any change programme. If it is, use it to your advantage – make sure your sponsor is an active one and plays a key role in your programme. If it’s not required, lobby a key senior stakeholder to act as your sponsor and champion the change

LOCAL CHAMPIONS- If your roll out is going to impact multiple teams e.g. brand teams, sales teams, trading teams etc, get them onside early by ensuring each team has a local ‘champion’.This individual can act as the voice of that team in any decision-making body but critically can also play a key role in communicating and selling in the benefits of the change (both formally and informally) within their team

SUPER-USERS- This may or may not be the same person as the champion (they are fundamentally different skills) but ensuring that there’s a key user within each team who can act as a super user. This key individual can help deal with any problems in the moment but also can help open the eyes of their team to wider use cases and help you by proactively suggesting potential enhancements

HEART AND HEAD - Often the data community is a very logical one. We can see the benefit of the change so surely everyone else will too?! However, any organisational change like this requires winning over heart as well as head.Don’t neglect the internal comms – launch with a splash and make it feel like a big moment for the business. Whilst this might feel peripheral to all the challenges of getting an accurate underlying data model, it’s just as important in driving internal adoption.

Finally, Look in the Mirror

With all that running around worrying about everyone else’s business processes and whether they’re on board, it can sometimes be easy to neglect your own patch!

What will this dashboard mean for the central insight/ data/ performance team? Simply putting the data out there won’t turn off a stream of questions (in fact you may expect more!) but it should change the nature of the questions.

Providing more access to the data is a great opportunity for any central insight / analytics function but also brings with it additional pressure – if everyone has access to the data, what’s the value that the insight team can bring?

It’s a great time to take stock and think about how you can ‘reset’ relationships with internal teams; spend more time on the ‘so what’ and ‘now what’ not just the ‘what’.

It’s also a moment to reflect on the skill-set of your internal teams but also the agency partners you work with – does everyone have the commercial acumen / insight skills to understand why patterns are appearing in the data rather than simply describing what now everyone can see…

This blog was first published in 2018 on - the go to resource for insight tools and platforms.


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