Achieve Data Democratization with the Right Tech Stack

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Posted Nov 06, 2020
Nicole Alaniz, Marketing Analytics Specialist, VSP Global

At this year's Insighter Virtual Conference, my colleague and I shared how companies big and small can close interdepartmental gaps and achieve data democratization with the right technology stack.

If you missed it, don't fret! In this blog post, I'll recap our top tips, tricks, and tools to optimize data gathering, storage, and distribution in your business to get rid of the barriers between your departments.

Before I get started, allow me to introduce myself.

I'm Nicole Alaniz, a Marketing Analytics Specialist at VSP. I hold a BA in Psychology and MOIS, which has helped fuel my passion for information research and knowledge sharing.

My colleague and partner on this project, Taryn Prince is a Senior Research Strategist at VSP and ensures company decision making is driven by consumer and market knowledge.

Now, let's dive in!

How it all began

VSP is a leader in the vision care health insurance industry. We have six lines of business, ranging from eyewear production to optician practice solutions. 

Our most popular is VSP Vision care, which focuses on eyesight insurance and has over 90 million members. Additionally, we have a variety of retail locations like VisionWorks.

Our services' wide-spanning nature means we always have a range of focus areas across different consumer audiences and members to consider. 

For example, our target audience includes HR professionals, individual members, doctors, and internal employees, either buying plans for their company or themselves.

Despite this, we have a small team of just five analysts responsible for most of the research and data across all our business lines. Each of us can have up to five projects going at any given time.

As you'd imagine, we must prioritize strategic tasks that can move the needle in our business. For example, executing impactful research and storytelling rather than research operations and administration. 

Additionally, we act as an in-house agency responsible for the full process from consultation and design through to execution, reporting, and presenting.

These are very time-consuming jobs and leave little to devote to marketing, evangelizing, and ensuring our work is used. 

A change was on the horizon.

Journeying out of the 'black hole'

These time constraints and our lack of a dedicated data-sharing tool had us feeling like our research was going into a black hole. 

We would send out our reports and just hope for the best because we didn't have the time to promote our insights.

We wanted a way to display our work without it taking away from our actual research function.

While we met people's needs, we knew there was room for improvement, particularly in the area of data visibility.  

For instance, we often gathered data for each business line, but there wasn't much cross line visibility between projects.

Data was sitting on our local drive in an Excel sheet, but our stakeholders couldn't see it. In fact, most times, they weren't even aware it existed! 

To make the most of everything that we do, we needed to:

  • Streamline our core tasks
  • Drive data visibility
  • Encourage information sharing and collaboration 

So, we set out on a journey to find tools and strategies to help us. It's been interesting, and we've learned a lot about the dos and don'ts of data democratization. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Automate your information management with a data discovery tool

We knew we were looking for a data discovery tool to restructure our data curation and sharing from the outset. We needed a way to unify all our data from disparate sources. KnowledgeHound turned out to be the best solution for us. 

Rather than an Excel sheet stagnating in our local drives, we put SPSS level data from all our survey research, the work and data that vendors provide to us, plus key supporting and secondary syndicated research reports in one location. 

Now we can find information with a single search instead of wasting time hunting down a teammate who might know where something is or searching across different platforms and storage sites.

This unification is key for maximum data utilization and efficiency in our company.

It’s also important to make data trackable. We now know who is looking at our research, how often it's being looked at, and spot emerging trends based on what people are searching for. 

If we don't have any data that fit that search, we can proactively fill in the gap to meet that need.

Another plus behind the unification aspect and increased data visibility is that each of our business lines can now benefit from research conducted for different purposes.  

For example, I once did a deep dive into a certain consumer segment for VSP's strategy office.

Ordinarily, I would send in the final report on SharePoint. If somebody found it great, but if not, that was it. 

However, this changed when I put the report up on our data discovery tool. 

Someone on our retail team discovered it and found it's content useful, so they passed it along to someone on the Vision Care team. Data utilization at its finest!

Implementing a centralized, self-service data distribution tool to your business eliminates the 'black hole' effect often experienced when managing data. 

Teams will have all the data at their fingertips without you needing to get involved.

Use technology to extract every drop of value from your existing research

More excitingly, implementing a data discovery tool has enabled us to unearth a sustainable way to squeeze much more value out of every study we do. 

Look for a tool with a data analysis feature that allows anyone to dig deeper into the data so that you can rediscover insights that might not have made it into the final presentation. 

For example, a while back, I conducted a very comprehensive survey on the Vision Care journey our customers take. I organized this survey for an ultra-specific team and purpose in mind.

I was happy with the reporting we did but walked away thinking that there was still much more valuable information in the survey results. 

I put our findings on the data discovery platform, and it's been a game-changer! I alone have used the same survey data at least 20 times. 

It's also helped us give additional flavor to other projects and even answer urgent, last-minute questions from leadership.

Being able to find or repurpose existing research quickly has also increased our team's exposure and clout. 

We now have an even better reputation as the go-to team for producing data that fulfill organizational needs.

In fact, we currently have a few hundred people in our organization registered on our survey data warehouse. Consequently, our influence is far-reaching. The research our small team creates can impact all our businesses and the various people, departments, and projects in VSP.

If you don't have time to do in-depth research to get a particular answer or need insights for a business partner that doesn't have any research budget, reusing information through a data discovery tool can save the day.

For best results from these tools, commit for the long haul and anticipate that the journey of building a more streamlined and centralized data hub will be an iterative process.

Eliminate data silos for greater transparency, efficiency, and robustness 

One of the biggest challenges we have is the data silo problem. We have several different analytics and competitive intelligence analysts throughout the company, all in different teams. 

Each has data that live in different platforms or network drives and don't move beyond their department. 

Consequently, we continue to find gaps in our research or find ourselves unaware of competitive intelligence insights that another team has created.

With the help of a data discovery tool, we knew we could recreate the success we're having with our team with other information-producing teams.

By deploying one platform throughout your entire organization, it'll help you efficiently share knowledge throughout the company and ensure your consumer research lands in the hands of the right people. 

Equip your CI teams and Sales for success with market intelligence tools 

Just as we analysts need a place to keep and distribute our consumer research, competitive intelligence teams also need a place to collect, curate, and store their insights.

Find a platform that provides a centralized location to house competitive intel from different internal and external sources.

We use a tool that allows users who have a 'seat' in the company to build out dashboards of competitor profiles (called battle cards). These can then be shared with their sales and RFP teams and arms them with sales strategies or information to quickly make a case for VSP versus a major insurance competitor.

This offers us a quick and easy way to leverage our strengths and shield our weaknesses in real-time. 

Integrate to elevate your tool arsenal

Going back to the issue of data being spread across different areas, we noticed we had an opportunity to fuse the insights we have in our data discovery tool and our competitive intelligence solution.

There are many benefits of combining insights from these platforms. Here are just a few:

  • Merging data = richer insights 

Incorporating market and consumer information with competitive intelligence insights can enhance data quality, allowing for more in-depth assessments.

  • Gain a 360-degree view of your market

Combining data allows you to compile key details like your competitors' strengths and weaknesses plus your own.

  • Enable all teams to access mission-critical data in one location

Empower staff from all teams with the knowledge that can help them provide a better service to your customers. 

At VSP, our customer service reps use this integrated system to stay informed on our competitors' updated information. This allows them to be better prepared to speak to these when they are talking to our members, clients, or other audiences that we serve.

Encourage a syndicated way of working in your organization

By connecting the different forms of customer research and intelligence at VSP, we're now able to tap into all the audiences we serve, such as our members, consumers, doctors, brokers, and clients.

Our sales and RFP teams can now use the same insights we have when executing tasks, like creating proposals for client acquisitions. 

This includes consumer data like pricing, value, and member satisfaction, and so adds an additional layer of context for teams that aren't in our research team. 

While it may seem daunting to set up this integration, it doesn't need to be. We've found some simple and quick ways to pull in data from these tools.

A great example is using a story link, a link to a data visualization, or a secondary research report to distribute information on our data discovery tool. 

This approach will also help your staff develop the habit of finding insights in the data discovery platform and reusing data in a fresh way that they may not have thought about previously.

Win the approval of stakeholders with secure access controls

When we started down the road of data democratization, our team was very enthusiastic about the changes, but admittedly we had a little fear. 

However, we were able to overcome our reservations with access controls. Opt for a data discovery tool that lets you lock down data that you don't want to be seen. In ours, people can't download raw data files; it's only available through the platform.

You can also place permission-based controls on studies so that no one can see any of the results unless they have certain access privileges. This helps restore trust.

Finally, you can use your reputation to reassure people. At VSP, we had faith in our ability to keep the data safe and so encouraged teams to trust us. 

Collaborate with internal teams to create new opportunities

If you have a great reputation or existing relationships with other teams, lean into them. Find ways to utilize each other's skills and tools.

Our research team has built great relationships with other areas of the organization over the past few years.

We're looking for ways to do more with less during these uncertain times. It's created opportunities to come together and leverage each other's tools. 

Whether that's through finding ways to share platforms that sit under different budgets, networking, or sharing data.

The increased cost savings, transparency, and collaboration between teams are greatly beneficial for the teams involved and, ultimately, the company. 

Level up your data sharing and utilization across departments

As we charter these uncertain times, it's never been more important we find ways to strengthen our organization from the inside out.

A great way to do this is through data democratization and the right tech tools to help you achieve this. Integrating your chosen tools will help you level up your data sharing and utilization across departments so you can get more out of your existing work.

It can take a while to get set up, but the enhanced collaboration, efficiency, and insights make it worth the initial investment of time and funds.

Once you're ready to expand your efforts beyond your team, use your reputation and existing relationships to encourage other teams to deploy these tools.

Keep your stakeholders onboard by demonstrating the value their team will get out of this approach and assign access rights to keep data secure for added reassurance.

And that's it! Follow these tips, and before you know it, you'll have a smooth-running company data hub everyone can benefit from.

Want to learn more about breaking down interdepartmental barriers with tech and data? Chat with the VSP team in our Insighter community.

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