2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated every day. Data is so critical to organizations that it’s labeled as an asset, with some giving it a value on their balance sheet and reporting it the same way an accountant would report on a patent. But while data is unequivocally recognized as a business asset, many seem to forget when it’s also the customer’s asset. Customer expectations in our regulated, privacy-conscious world demand that organizations ensure data use is legal, ethical, and responsible.

The mentality of “no”

Data regulations have evolved with the constant progress made in data collection and processing. But increased regulation is stretching data teams to their limits. With so much at risk—and almost weekly stories of regulatory penalties for large enterprises—“no” is often the easiest thing for legal and compliance teams to say when data teams come calling for data. At best, data’s provided through a laborious, manual and lengthy process that wastes time, resources and talent. Worse still—most of the time data teams can’t tell if data is useful until they see it.

I regularly hear of data teams planning their long list of projects for a year but seeing 85% rejected by the data guardian (usually legal, risk or compliance). The 15% that get the green light are typically those projects that promise the least value. The greatest insights come from the most sensitive data, but with great data comes great responsibility. 

The data heroes

Behind every leader asking better questions, making faster decisions, and innovating solutions, is a team of data heroes that fuels efficiency and catalyzes growth. But this straightforward formula requires focus and preparation.

So what are the six traits of the modern data hero? And how do they balance utility with security and privacy in an evolving regulatory environment?

  1. Accessing data at the right time

Data heroes reduce the time it takes end users to access safe and meaningful data. They automate and centralize collaborative workflows and data policy creation to make data available in real-time. Their users can shop for data sets in the same way they’d shop for products on Amazon, instead of bouncing around multiple teams asking for permissions.

  1. Diversifying data source access

While many data teams would be content to access long-standing data sources with ease, data heroes expand the range of sources available to use. They go beneath the surface and amplify data that has never been tapped for innovation before. As an example, I recently met a data team that mines unstructured text data from website live chat as a source of valuable customer insights. More data means more insights.

  1. Democratizing access to data

Fast access to data is good. Diversifying data sources is great. But democratizing data access has the power to transform operations from a single team offering value to an ingrained data-driven culture across the board. Data heroes don’t just give data access to new users—finance and marketing teams, for example—they educate and empower them. When data science teams can access multiple sources of data in real-time, they innovate faster as a function. When the whole company is empowered to use data (with access and data literacy) it’s like pouring accelerant on the fire of innovation, performance and company success.

  1. Retaining data’s value after protection 

Data teams often complain that protections lose sight of data’s context and dilute its value. And without context, data isn’t much use. Data heroes identify a clear use case, and apply relevant privacy techniques to balance data protection with utility. This is the secret sauce to unleash 100% of your data for legal and ethical use. Safe and meaningful data reaches the right people, at the right time.

  1. Keeping up with the data compliance environment

They say change is the only constant. That’s certainly true of data regulation. It was a challenge twenty years ago, and it’s only getting more complex to achieve compliance with the EU GDPR in place and copycat laws popping up around the globe. (Of course, the cause is worthy—protecting customers’ personal information). Data heroes make sure their framework of people, technology, and processes can match the pace of change, so access controls safeguard data and data requests don’t create bottlenecks.

  1. Evolving their data platform

Batman’s utility belt holds the tools he needs to succeed; data heroes have their own set of tools that provide the foundation for innovative use cases. We’ve come a long way from spreadsheets to the data catalogs, data visualization and modeling tools, and data privacy solutions of today. But a daisy chain of (expensive) tools will result in a disparate technology stack, and complicate efforts to give data consumers access to data in their preferred reporting and analytics tools. Data heroes form a clear and comprehensive vision, with a bird’s-eye view of data’s flow around their organization, and an understanding of the policies needed to protect data privacy across all services. Their long-term thinking considers how processes and governance will scale with their success.

With great data comes great responsibility 

Data management isn’t a checkbox activity to satisfy regulation. Whether navigating uncertainty, fueling innovation, or driving their companies to achieve their biggest objectives, today’s data heroes are the ones who enable, empower and inspire their organizations to get the greatest possible value from their data. Privacy and compliance are not obstacles to their innovation.

Our latest report in partnership with Corinium Intelligence – “The New Fuel of Enterprise Innovation”—interviews the real data heroes of today’s businesses, who provide actionable advice on becoming a data hero, putting the six traits into practice, and fueling innovation at your organization.