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What are the essential features for your data portal?

Data portals are the heart of effective data sharing programs to democratize data. But what features should you look for in your portal to maximize usage and sharing? Our blog explains why success starts with a focus on the user experience.

VP of Marketing , Opendatasoft
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Data is now central to everyone’s working and private lives. At the same time there is more and more of it being produced by organizations across their operations due to the continuation of their digital transformation. Organizations therefore have to bring together data supply and demand by seamlessly sharing it with all their internal and external stakeholders to drive greater efficiency, innovation and new revenues, transparency and collaboration. Existing data management methods and tools are no longer enough to democratize data, i.e. to collect and share data assets on this scale. They often require people to have advanced data skills in order to find the information they want and then reuse it confidently, holding back sharing and its benefits.

Organizations therefore have to invest in easy to use one-stop shop data portals that centralize all of their information and make it accessible rapidly, at scale for everyone. They should encourage use by making the whole process simple, inviting and user-friendly. Based on these needs, what features should you look for in your data portal solution to enable data democratization?

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Collecting and centralizing data is just the first step in becoming data-driven. If it is not being used, then data simply doesn’t deliver value. That means the essential guiding principle behind your data portal has to be making it as easy and seamless for every user to access and benefit from data, without requiring detailed training.

Companies need to focus on the user experience, making the whole process as intuitive, engaging and self-service as visiting any good ecommerce site.

Make it accessible to all your users

People should get a high-quality experience whatever type of device and whatever web browser they are using for access, without needing to download or install any additional software.

Your portal should be perfectly integrated with your other data solutions (such as data catalogs, and BI tools), so that employees can use their preferred tools to find, access and reuse data on your portal.

Depending on the needs of your users, your portal should also be multilingual, available in different languages to further increase accessibility and navigation.

Provides easy navigation

Often data portals have hundreds of datasets. Users need to be able to quickly find the ones that they want, and have confidence that the data itself is high-quality, up-to-date and meets their needs. That means making it easy to navigate around your data portal, with a clear structure and layout. All assets, such as datasets, visualizations, maps, data stories and services should be organized into relevant themes to aid browsing, be clearly connected, and have full descriptions so that users can see what each covers at a glance, encouraging an interactive experience. Make it easy for users to bookmark and favorite particular datasets so that they can be easily located next time they visit. For internal portals look to automatically suggest relevant datasets based on someone’s role and previous usage.

Interactive discovery of data assets

There’s an enormous variation in the ways that people best interact with data. While some technical users may want to view raw data in a table form, the majority of people prefer to interact with it when it is displayed visually, such as through dashboards, maps or other visualizations, such as data stories. These need to be continually up-to-date and interactive, allowing users to drill down into the data behind a dashboard or click through on a map to get a detailed view at a local level.

All of this means that your data portal has to make it easy for your team to create these compelling visualizations for your data, automating the process as much as possible, such as through low code/no code programming capabilities. Additionally, your data portal should provide the tools for users to build their own simple visualizations, either of individual datasets or by combining them to meet their own needs.

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Data portals have to make it easy for users to quickly find the exact datasets and assets that best meet their needs. This means that portals have to be built on advanced capabilities for search and data access, that can be used by experts and non-experts alike.

Provide comprehensive search capabilities

Above all, data portals should have a powerful search function, available through an advanced navigation bar with the ability to use filters to refine results. This must be flexible enough to let users search on data asset names and metadata as well as understanding the different range of terms that people may use in their queries. The results should be both accurate and detailed so that users can see exactly what the data asset covers, including previews of datasets and associated visualizations down to the level of metadata. This will increase confidence that users have found the right data asset for their needs and encourage increased usage.

Enables interaction between producer and consumer

Consumers should be able to request access to particular datasets with a single click, in the same way they’d ask to view a document on Google Drive or SharePoint. Not only does this type of interaction improve the experience for users, but it also delivers invaluable feedback for individual data producers and for the wider organization. You can see which data is interacted with most, and use this to plan future strategy, either to introduce new, similar datasets or to improve the quality of any data that has a low rating.

Essentially, your data portal has to deliver the same level of interaction and confidence as on an ecommerce marketplace. That means users should be able to easily leave comments and feedback that is automatically shared with the data producer, and rate datasets in terms of quality and usefulness.

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As well as being easily accessible and understandable, your data portal has to make it as easy as possible to share data and visualizations, and to inspire people to increase the ways that they reuse data.

Provide sharing options

Some users will want to simply download a static spreadsheet to run their own, one-off calculations, while others will want to automate the process, with data continually flowing into their own applications or models as soon as it is produced. Equally, many organizations want to be able to embed visualizations in other applications, such as web pages, apps or management dashboards or share with their communities on social media or via email.

Your data portal has to maximize reuse by providing a full range of sharing options, from standard file formats such as CSV, Excel, JSON, GeoJSON, Shapefile and KML, to APIs that deliver data directly to applications, widgets that embed data in web pages and shareable, clickable links for social media. Manually adding all of these to your datasets is enormously time-consuming, so make sure your data portal solution streamlines the process, and generates all sharing options, including robust APIs, automatically from every one of your datasets.

Give your users access to further resources

While some users will have a clear idea of the data they want to access and how they will reuse it, others will need greater support and inspiration. Therefore an effective data portal will provide users with a range of further resources to help them make the most of its data. This includes examples to inspire them in how they can use your data, more information on the data itself and links to training sessions and tutorials to help them improve their skills.

 

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The creation of data portals, whether in-house, in open data or with your partners, opens the door to new uses and reuses of all kinds.

Data lineage makes it possible to analyze these uses by showing the relationships between different data over time. In other words, the aim of such a feature is to analyze how data is used within an ecosystem.

Data lineage allows you to:

  • Improve the maintenance of your portal
  • Reinforce your data strategy and define your roadmap
  • Demonstrate portal value and engage stakeholders

 

Whatever industry you are in, data portals are critical to an effective information sharing strategy, and are at the heart of democratizing access to your data internally and externally. Usability is key to their success – therefore ensure your portal is able to deliver the features above if you want to drive adoption and reap the benefits of effective data sharing.

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