When you’ve been in the data business for a while, it becomes apparent that data engineers are not adequately informed about how your information is used. However, they often manage the pipes and gate access to your information. Your organization will also have more consumers of information than available data engineers.
In truth, it can be difficult to find, hire, and retain world-class data engineers. A good number of “data scientists” are actually data engineers, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Data engineers can become a bottleneck for data-driven organizations. As a result, you might be encouraged to implement a Self-Service Data Platform (SSDP). SSDPs accelerate time to business value, spread knowledge about the sources of information, and help instill trust in the data, as more people are actively involved in maintaining smooth operations.
However, SSDPs can be expensive to both buy and build. Whether you choose to either buy or build your SSDP, consider the following four key points to ensure that it delivers what you need.
Metadata is critical to any SSDP. Your users must have the ability to access and find what they need. They must be able to discover information at different stages and preview that information in a semi-unified way. Ideally, they should be able to comment on datasets and columns to enrich the metadata with business value and justifications, rather than recording the information in disconnected technical documentation.
The data that drives your business is generated across all departments. Sales, Marketing, Finance, Operations, and Engineering each produce data, which should be absorbed into your SSDP. Systems that collect restricted types of data from a few departments will inhibit your organization from tracking, managing, and sharing information effectively across your teams.
Every department should share the ability and responsibility of managing data processing pipelines. Some employees might not have the knowledge or the need to build data pipelines. However, at the very least, they should have access to a first tier set of capabilities to resolve issues with information they either produce or consume. Designated individuals in each department should have visibility into the systems to be able to reload data, rerun processing jobs, and generate reports. This will help to spread the data maintenance duties across the organization as well as drive a stronger sense of data ownership and ensure integrity.
When several people in your organization have access to the SSDP, measures should be put in place to ensure secure operations. Do not allow individuals to share a single set of database user credentials. Simple individual user access control is the starting point. SSDPs are often required to handle more rigorous compliance procedures for SOX, HIPAA, and CFIUS.
SSDP projects can be difficult to investigate and implement. The resulting benefit of reliable, secure, accurate, and available data is worth the effort. Having an SSDP enables data engineers to support more internal customers with less effort. It also reduces the impact of turnover in your data engineering department, which reduces the potential for the loss of intellectual property.