Data collaboration is the new "slideware". Crazy, right? Actually, it makes a ton of sense. Teamwork is what sparks innovation and fuels business growth. Collaborating across organizational silos requires coming together to understand different perspectives, information, and make decisions together. In the past, we would write everything down and share documents with each other, and trade memos back and forth. In a digital world, we've learned to do that really fast with notifications and "instant" messages, and we even share one document that we can all work on together at the same time. Nowadays we call that "collaboration".
But where's the data? Where does the information come from? All the same places it always has. When you think about it, nothing has really changed. Our information systems have not been radically transformed. We go to a variety of places and many other systems and look up the data points we need. We find some of the data we need on a dashboard, other data comes from a spreadsheet or database. If we're agile, we keep some of it on a whiteboard or in a shared digital notebook. Once we've found all the information we need to analyze, summarize, or report out, we write it all down in our shared documents. We'll even do some manual analysis or pivot tables to analyze the data. We'll do some calculations on our phone. And then we write down all the results in our shared documents.
We feel good about our data-driven new way of working. But the reality is, when it comes to the data, we may as well be using a pencil and paper.
How do we know we got the data from the right place?
How do we know the data is valid?
How do we know what to do with duplicate or missing data?
How do we know our pivot table was set up correctly?
How do we know we did the right math with our calculator?
How do the other people in our team know what we did - and more importantly, why?
How do the people creating and analyzing the data know what decisions are being made with it?
How do we handoff stewardship of our information to another person?
Even with modern collaboration tools like Google Docs, we are manually handling the data. We have a lot of automation, data management, and reporting with BI systems like Tableau and data lakes like BigQuery, but even with all these modern tools it is a long and tedious journey to have reliable data we can use to make good decisions. We don't have a good way to validate our data and our results, so we usually find the errors along the way, by accident, only when there is a problem.
We have a stack of modern data tools we are trying to deploy and integrate, but they are not collaborative. Sure, I can share with my team what I did, but I can't annotate it with reasons, create a conversation across the team that leads to decisions, take actions based on the data, or automatically update others when things change. I may share amazing results from my analysis, but nobody else knows how I got there. Sometimes I don't even know, or I get two different answers to the same question and I can't retrace my steps to figure out what went wrong.
To really harness the power of our business information, we need to have a team that works with real-time data that we can trust, and then we need to make decisions based on it, capture them, and follow up. We all need to use a single authoritative system of record for our data and how we use it to run our business. That will truly transform the way we work.
The number of data tools available today is exploding, but we can't just get there with a stack of different systems that are stitched together. To enable real teamwork pivoting on the data, we need a single platform that is built from the ground up with collaboration as a high order bit. The value of a single platform is in the standardization of data types, schemas, and languages, the elimination of error-prone manual steps, and the ability to collaborate in real time on the entire lifecycle of business information.
I've been down this path before, and I know it is a ton of work - but I believe we can do better. By automating everything from connecting different data sources, to validating and cleaning all the data, to removing duplicates, and even finding errors. By introducing new machine learning systems to synthesize, analyze, and detect errors. By connecting directly to go-to-market platforms and other business systems so no step is left to chance. And most importantly, but giving everyone on the team the ability to access not just the data, but the insights that have been discovered, the actions that have been taken, the results for the business, and the ability to collaborate across the organization.
I know that sounds like an arduous journey. It is a journey we are on, and I am convinced it is worth it. When we truly enable collaboration on our data, we change the way we work. We move faster and we work better together, taking teamwork to a whole new level.