“Democratization” is the latest trend in data. While it is rapidly acquiring multiple definitions, the one I find most useful suggests that there is a growing opportunity to open up complex datasets to people who could benefit from them, but haven’t traditionally used them.

With this definition, data democratization usually involves some combination of pricing and user interface design. Reduced pricing is meant to make a data product more broadly accessible, and user interface design is about making the data incredibly easy to use. Putting these two together, those employing a data democratization strategy believe they can significantly expand their markets. In addition, a powerfully simple user interface should result in reduced support costs by enabling less sophisticated data users to start getting the answers they need directly, by themselves.

The best opportunities for data democratization? Look for data silos.  The data provider combines several datasets, doing all the complex normalization and matching that is required. The user interface then lets users painlessly do what amounts to cross-tabulation and filtering with all the complexity carefully hidden. Results are usually in the form of highly visual data presentations.

Data democratization is not “dumbing down” data. Indeed, a democratized data product often has all the power of much more complex and expensive business intelligence (BI) software. The nuance is making the user interface more accessible and less scary, and reducing the price point so that the product isn’t a major purchase decision.

You can see an analogy of sorts with what happened with computers, moving from centralized, expensive installations operated by a few with specialized skills to the amazing desktop computing capabilities we all enjoy today. Whether data democratization is an opportunity of the same scale and profundity as the computer revolution is unclear, but it certainly bears close watching because this is a strategy with a powerful first-mover advantage.

To see a great example of data democratization, check out one of this year’s Models of Excellence, Franklin Trust Ratings.

Better yet, meet the founder behind it. John Morrow, at this year’s Business Information and Media Summit, Nov. 13 – 15 in Ft. Lauderdale. There will be lots of other data trendsetters there too!