Data Access: A Framework for Productivity

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June 27, 2016

Data has become a key component of organizational decision-making. As research links analytics to competitive advantages, more companies are focusing their efforts on the ways they access and use data.

However, many are still struggling to use their data effectively. And overcoming these barriers requires a multi-faceted approach that brings both business and technology processes into a unified strategy.

It Starts With a Plan

Before really delving into the details of your data, it's important to have a plan. You need to be able to answer questions about how the data will be used, who needs access to it, and whether this creates any security concerns.

42 percent of organizations struggle with technical integration challenges when deploying analytics initiatives, according to a KPMG Capital study.

As a result, IT professionals (like you) need to assess existing technology environments to determine which platforms and databases information resides in. This evaluation is key to informing your choice of data access tool. And it may also reveal problems within your current data management and access practices.

Need help making your plan? Watch a webinar >

Take the Time to Listen

The myriad of tasks IT professionals deal with on a daily basis makes it easy to forget some of the fundamentals.

Although listening is a fantastic tool, it often goes underutilized. When technology meets concerns from business units, that means it is more important than ever to pay attention to what end users are saying.

However, it's not just about keeping other stakeholders happy. Chances are if you're dealing with a technology problem, someone else has experienced it as well. 

Many technical teams have difficulty identifying the most important metrics to include in reports for business units (e.g., different departments). There is a set of challenges that commonly emerge from a data access standpoint.

First, listen to other teams within your organization. And then seek out advice from service providers and others in IT to start learning about potential solutions.

Learn From Those Around You

Planning and listening to what your users really need is essential for maintaining focus on key objectives. But even the most comprehensive initial strategy can fail to account for all potential issues.

Having the willingness to learn is what often separates the top performers from those that struggle.

Learn from your own operational environments. And take note of other businesses that have followed similar paths. Doing both of these will give you a better framework for your own strategies.

In truth, the most effective plans are those that enable organizations to be dynamic. This might mean implementing better technical solutions or altering business processes to solve a new problem.

Data can be a powerful tool when it's used effectively, but some implementations fall short of expectations.

If you're dealing with numerous complaints from end users, or struggle to identify relevant data, it's time to take a step back. Learn from what's gone wrong.

Many businesses launch data-driven initiatives without the right data management practices. This compromises data relevancy and accuracy. When you launch a data-driven initiative, you need to be able to use data effectively. 

Control Your Technology

If one thing is true in the technology world, it's that IT solutions will always be rapidly evolving.

While this means there will always be more emerging opportunities to take advantage of, there will also be pitfalls.

One common mistake is letting enthusiasm for technology dictate implementation. Rather than impulsively handing over control to new software and hardware, it is important to maintain objectivity and understand how a potential solution might create difficulties.

Mobile data access is a good example of a current trend that can control you if you let it.

Before deciding whether to invest the time and resources to let employees work with mission-critical data on their mobile devices, you should ask yourself several key questions to ensure there will be real gains:

  • If your organization is strictly internal, do your users need data access mobility to do their jobs?
  • What features would departments need if they could access data on iPhones and iPads?
  • Would executives be able to better guide the company if mission-critical data was always available?
  • What changes would IT need to make to support mobile users?
  • Which data falls under the purview of compliance?

It’s important to ask tough questions before adapting your IT and business strategy to any new technology trend. When in doubt, fall back on the intended goals of your initial plan, and determine how a given solution could actually solve some real problems within your organization.

Eliminate Workflow Bottlenecks

There are plenty of areas where workflow can get clogged. And not all of them have to do with the IT systems that keep applications running.

While it is true that performance problems hurt productivity, so does waiting for critical data. It's important to look at your existing array of tasks and decide whether requests can be handled in a timely manner. Small IT teams may be flooded with requests for reports that they simply can't produce within the timeframe their users desire. 

There are a few ways to deal with these kinds of productivity standstills.

Internally, your IT team can focus the magnifying glass on their own processes. You can improve your efficiency, leaving more time to deal with the needs of other departments. Automation and self-service are important to consider. It's tough to balance user empowerment and security. But tools that easily provide a high degree of security customization can dramatically lower risk.

How Do You Improve Productivity?

It's one thing to understand elements of data access individually. It's another to bring them together to improve productivity. 

If your goal is to improve the productivity of everyone involved with data retrieval and analysis, you need to look for the right tool.

Put the steps you just learned into action: 

  • Listen to your end users and find out what they need in order to do their jobs
  • Learn how they get the data they need
  • Find out what they have to do in order to transform it into useful information.
Once you've done that, you can find the right tool based on your needs and current technology. 
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