The ability to make powerful data readily accessible for anyone in your organization, widely known as data democratization, is not a new concept. Numerous articles have been written about the topic as well as the benefits of cross functional datasets, transparency and accessibility. Today’s CMOs are challenged to show business results, understand and find the right customer all while encouraging engagement and knowledge transfers across their organization. Mounting changes in the industry (i.e. restrictions on cookies and browser tracking) along with legal and privacy regulation (CCPA, GDPR)  further raise the stakes.

Greater transparency and data democratization seems like a simple enough solution. While in theory this is the ideal state for organizational effectiveness and partner alignment, it is understandable why companies are struggling to change. Often, radical cultural and technical shifts are needed within an organization, without which, the above industry changes cannot be met.

Organizations experience very real challenges that can seemingly outweigh the benefits of data democratization:

1. Significant Investment is required. Even pre-COVID-19, marketers invested in technology and data at levels that started to outweigh the results. True benefits of democratized data require both financial and human resources. The human element means that effective implementation of a data strategy is often uneven.

2. Inappropriate use of data. Assuming data is made available, the next concern is how that data will or can be used, across three key areas:

a. Data could be shared outside of the allowed parties, exposing information that negatively impacts the company’s position or information.

b. Data might be misread or misinterpreted, negatively impacting business decisions.

c. Mistrust in how external partners will utilize proprietary data has led many companies to withhold sales data. With limited partner and publisher performance transparency, no one party has an advantage and the organization is actually limiting itself.

3. Lack of Interest. Most organizations have a diverse number of reports that help track towards various goals. Some organizations will not see the value in additional reports, or at looking at data with an altogether new approach.

Despite these often-overlooked concerns, there are practical solutions to aid in democratizing your data.

1. Scalable costs. Believe it or not, the path to quality, accessible data should not require significant financial investment if a properly set up data structure exists (clean data in, means quality data out). Look for a partner that provides a customizable data architecture for your organization’s unique needs. With your own data in order, consider that there are vast sources of data to tie into your audiences, media, sales and performance data which can increase the recency of the data, improving optimization speeds. This approach allows you to take data from quarterly to daily, and in turn maximizes performance. While many of these solutions do have an entry point price tag, tying clean data with recent data (and aligning your marketing efforts with your overall data practice) will yield more efficient results.

2. Data Governance and Alignment. Once your properly structured data is flowing appropriately, you need to make sure the data stays in the right hands, answers the right questions and is providing accurate insights – data governance is critical. Formulate organizational guidelines to place the right level of restrictions, access, and accessibility to the data.

a. Data Policies – verify access to the data as appropriate for internal and external use cases and be flexible with these permissions.

b. Templatization – aligning reporting to core business objectives (sales performance, media in market, budget allocations) provides quick access and empowers decision making.

c. Data Indicators and Definitions – for superusers really digging into the data, accessible definitions provide clear insights into the source, recency and descriptions of the measurement – again clean data in, clean data out. If there is sensitive data that you do not wish to share with external partners, like sales or profitability, then develop those key indicators for performance. This will allow partners to work towards real business results.

3. Instigating curiosity. Sometimes, you will need to move beyond data simplicity, so designating your ‘data champions,’ both internally and externally provides a clear point for deeper dive reporting. Providing appropriate levels of data can further instigate curiosity across functions, ranks, roles and partners, ultimately leading to improvements in performance and innovation.

Ultimately, the benefits of improved transparency across an organization through data democratization can pay real dividends. The upfront investment in technology and training is just that: an investment. Putting in place the right levers to effectively and ethically utilize your first party data is a proven long-term strategy for any business.