© International Society of Limnology 2016.Rapid data growth in many environmental sectors has necessitated tools to manage and analyze these data. The development of tools often lags behind the proliferation of data, however, which may slow exploratory opportunities and scientific progress. The Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) collaborative model supports an efficient and comprehensive data-analysis-insight life cycle, including implementations of data quality control checks, statistical calculations/derivations, models, and data visualizations. These tools are community-built and openly shared. We discuss the network structure that enables tool development and a culture of sharing, leading to optimized output from limited resources. Specifically, data sharing and a flat collaborative structure encourage the development of tools that enable scientific insights from these data. Here we provide a cross-section of scientific advances derived from global-scale analyses in GLEON. We document enhancements to science capabilities made possible by the development of analytical tools and highlight opportunities to expand this framework to benefit other environmental networks.