Debunking The First Law Of Data Democracy


Adrian Bridgwater, Contributor

February 10, 2015

Access to information today is supposed to be for everyone. So-called ‘data democracy’ labels has been ascribed to every vendor’s ‘presentation layer’ in an effort to bring more users into contact with actionable business stats of all kinds. This is where data vizualisation comes in as a route to representing abstract data sets as (usually) multi-coloured images and graphical representations designed to help humans find and then interpret patterns and trends held inside the business or scientific data in question.

The first law of information democracy states:

As the number of workflow-engaged stakeholders interacting with data vizualisation tools increases (within agreed policy access limitations), the natural propensity increases for actionable insights to be a) taken away and acted upon and b) further fed back into the analytics engine itself.

On paper (or, on screen, obviously) this technology proposition appears to hold water. Giving a wider number of workers access to data vizualisation streams is indeed democratic, but is a little data vizualisation knowledge a dangerous thing?

CEO of data-driven Business Intelligence (BI) tools vendor Looker Frank Bien thinks it might be — his firm produces a piece of software for data scientists that is intended to help make tangible sense of the data crucial for growing enterprises through a browser. He says that wider data literacy – not visualization – should be our next enterprise information imperative.

A little data vizualisation is a dangerous thing

Looker’s Bien suggests that the new data visualization tools have created a false expectation in the data marketplace. They provide a great way to engage employees with data in a visceral way, but once business users have it, the depth they can explore the data is limited. What this ultimately means is that these users slow down the query process and they make it a challenge to answer complex questions.

“The promise of self-service BI and moving data exploration out of IT and into the hands of business users is only partly addressed — but this has done more to whet the appetite than to address the real need. Furthermore, the proliferation of visualization tools impedes an organization’s ability to make decisions based on reliable metrics, because it leads to a lag in relevance of the data. We are on the cusp of a renaissance in BI in which modern data tools unlock the true business value of data and enable all knowledge workers to explore and engage directly with the data,” stated Bien.

Data visualization without education is myopia

The solution he says is to increase data literacy, not improve data visualization. Data literacy is an increasingly strategic focus for organizations of all sizes and a vital driver of business success.

“To truly empower employees to make the best decisions, they need direct access to data and a comprehensive understanding of how to use and analyze it. [But] data literacy is the most important component of data-driven organizations today,” said Bien.

The firm’s states that new generation of analytic databases are built to power the processing of massive amounts of data, and that’s what Looker is supposed to do. Looker was built from the ground up to enable big data processing using dialect-specific SQL and analytic functions within backend databases to enable ‘serious dataset’ heavy-lifting.

Debunking democracy

As keen as we all are to race towards the promised land of the new data driven economy, we need to make sure we can walk (and get first grade statistical analysis under our belt) before we try to start running.

We know that the data landscape is beset with inequality just now and as Looker founder, chairman and CEO Lloyd Tabb has put it, “In the conventional data economy, there are the data-rich and the data-poor. The data-poor make uninformed decisions. The data-poor have to guess.” The data-poor are down on the bread line, but they don’t have to stay there forever.

We know that the right information can help win wars, but clouded latent information doesn’t necessarily benefit from the right level of prioritization — and careless analytics costs lives, or dollars at the very least.

This article was written by Adrian Bridgwater from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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