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Putting the Data Citizen Front and Center

Putting the Data Citizen Front and Center

I just spent a few days attending Gartner’s Data and Analytics Summits. Ping-ponging from London to Texas was a little rough, but well worth the effort. Gartner devoted a full track to data governance—an indication of just how the data landscape has changed in just a few short years: a lot more data, a lot more points of convergence, and a lot more technologies for managing change.

Consider this: Gartner anticipates that by 2019 (you read that right), citizen data scientists will be making more predictions based on data than will data scientists. And by 2020, more than 40% of tasks associated with data scientists will be automated. These predictions assume (rightly, I think) that today we have the capabilities in place to help data citizens—the line-of-business folks using data to solve problems—do their work better and more independently.

Analyst Carlie Idoine drove home the point by talking about what she called “citizen synergy.” To generate real business value, data needs to find its way into the hands of business users. Why? Data scientists are great at “working” the data, but that approach has its risks. It might yield a great insight, but all too often, the folks looking for that needle in the haystack come up short. Business users, as Idoine pointed out, already have domain knowledge. And they already have a clear understanding of business objectives. They are much more able to ask the right questions or discover innovative ways to use the data. Yes, they need the requisite technical skills, but as automation increases, those down and dirty technical skills will be less of a hurdle. Collibra Catalog is just such a tool—it helps business users discover information more easily, understand the data behind reports and other analytical outputs, and, ultimately, use those data assets to move from insight to action.

Putting data into the hands of the data citizen, of course, will require a change in how we think about data governance—at least according to Andrew White’s apocalyptically titled talk, The End of Data Governance as We Know It. Don’t be scared. This is a good thing. White argued that data governance is rapidly evolving from a top-down, compliance-oriented activity to a bottom-up (or at least organization-wide) strategy focused on improving the experience of the average data citizen.

White acknowledges that businesses can’t (and indeed, shouldn’t) abandon compliance and regulation as governance priorities. He is proposing, however, that the primary value of data governance is enabling every data citizen to find, understand, and trust data. Business sustaining activities like compliance fall into what White characterizes as “mode 1” activities. But to really drive value in a digital business environment organizations need to put most of their horsepower into “mode 2” activities—things like involving business users more directly in the production of knowledge. Because when business users know where to find their data, when they understand what it means, and when they trust that it’s accurate, they are much more willing to use that data in the service of the business and do what needs to be done to make that data even better. Data governance as a virtuous feedback loop. Now that’s cool.

Check back soon for some additional thoughts about the Gartner summits, the convergence of data and analytics, and how to govern both.