6 Steps to Improve Data Literacy to Deliver Business Value

6 Steps to Improve Data Literacy to Deliver Business Value

By Sonia Johnson on Apr 17, 2019

6 Steps to Improve Data Literacy to Deliver Business Value

Avoid being one of the 50% of businesses that lack sufficient AI & data literacy skills to achieve business value.

The growing importance of data and analytics creates new strategic challenges for organisations and data and analytics leaders. Taking advantage of more advanced business intelligence (BI) techniques like machine learning and artificial Intelligence (AI) and empowering business users to be more data driven, requires a culture of strong data literacy across the organisation.  Data literacy is seen by many as a key KPI for Australian businesses today but is a growing challenge.  According to Gartner, we’re a long way off, as by 2020, 50% of organisations will lack sufficient AI and data literacy skills to achieve business value.  So what is data literacy, why is it important and how do businesses go about improving it within the organisation?

What Do We Mean By Data Literacy?

Data literacy is a growing challenge for most organsiations. According to Gartner this is acknowledged by the fact that by 2020, 80% of organisations will initiate deliberate competency development in the field of data literacy.

“By 2020, 80% of organisations will initiate deliberate competency development in the field of data literacy.”  

The challenge is that in most organisations business people might not understand the importance of how data and analytics supports their work, and similarly, data and analytics professionals might not have enough understanding of the business context of their work.  As data and analytics are increasingly valuable assets to organisations, all employees need to be able to understand and use the information relevant to their role, at the moments that matter most.

Literacy is no longer limited to just being able to read and write. There are several other skills employees must master in order to solve problems and gain knowledge.  Gartner defines data literacy as the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied — and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value.

By now, most organisations have identified the need to build a data-driven organisation to improve decision making and business performance.  This trend is reflected in the increased appointment of Chief Data Officer (CDO) roles in Australia and overseas. To lead this type of transformation however, enterprises must be able to quantify the business value of data (ie. the business outcomes that result from taking action on analysis), foster a mindset of data-driven decision making while empowering employees with the information they need and define and communicate appropriate ethical considerations associated with data such as transparency, data protection and integrity.  

The Importance of Data Literacy

While most companies are still trying to figure out how to makes sense of their data, a new breed of data-focused companies are emerging around us. They go beyond solely recording transactions or even recommending new products. They use data to predict and influence your next action. Simply put, data is the key to future-proof your business. This level of reliance on data requires everyone in your organisation to be data literate. This skill is needed to support not only fact-based decision making but to enable users to explore and experiment with data to uncover future opportunities.

Employees without data literacy skills are struggling to match the performance of their data-savvy colleagues. This isn’t surprising given the vast amounts of information being produced every day. And the situation isn’t likely to improve soon. IDC forecasts a ten-fold increase in worldwide data by 2025.

According to global research conducted last year by Censuswide on behalf of Qlik into data literacy, surveying over 7,000 business decision makers across the globe, the following surprising statistics emerged:

  • Enterprise-wide data literacy is low - 76% of decision makers aren't confident to work with data
  • Senior leaders don't display confidence - 32% of the c-suite is viewed as data literate
  • Future employees are unprepared - only 21% of 16-24 yr olds are data literate
  • Organisations are losing competitive advantage 
  • Data is key to professional credibility 
  • 78% of employees would be willing to invest more time & energy to improve their data skills

How To Speak Data

If you’re unsure about where you fit within the scale of data literacy, you can put your data literacy to the test with this free data literacy assessment test by Qlik.  Employees must have at least a basic ability to communicate and understand conversations about data. In short, the ability to “speak data” will become an integral aspect of most day-to-day jobs and can also be a career booster.  

It’s concerning that 76% of key business decision makers aren’t confident in their ability to read, work with and analyse and argue with, data, according to Qlik’s research.

A successful data literacy initiative requires a cultural and mindset shift by which data and analytics moves from supportive and secondary to fundamental for digital business transformation.  It becomes central to how organisations do what they do, every day, every time. Organisations need to get smarter at understanding what outcomes can be improved and what investments across data and analytics drives those outcomes.

As organisations become more data-driven, poor data literacy will become an inhibitor to growth. To increase data literacy within the enterprise, businesses must address the following six areas.  

1. Lead by example and create a data-driven culture:

Promoting data literacy in an organisation starts with culture. Organisations need to establish data-first cultures that encourage the use of data, with strong support for the use of facts in decision making and a culture that celebrates curiosity and critical thinking. This requires a combination of the right technology and people. Leadership teams need to believe in it, promote it and live by it. Ensure data and analytics leaders and teams are leading by example with best of breed processes, technologies and language in all meetings when discussing business outcomes. 

2. Conduct an assessment:

Conduct an assessment of the current state of data literacy across each area of the business. An outcome of this assessment will describe an employee’s comfort level in terms of data personas reflecting different levels of data literacy. According to Qlik’s research, Australia as a region sits in the middle in terms of empowering everyone to use data, still though at only 29%. Identify areas in the business where data isn’t being used to its full potential and use this to conduct a “proof of concept” with a BI platform to improve performance.

3. Provide the necessary access to data:

Historically only a few executives in the business had wide access to data, but that model is evolving fast. Maintaining competitive advantage means democratizing data so more employees have greater access across the business - this is where the type of business intelligence platform and consulting partner you use becomes important as ease of use drives adoption and learning. Too often, we see organisations that are drowning in the ever-growing number of reports and are mostly disappointed by the lack of expected or promised insights from their data. Data literacy skill is needed to determine which content is valuable and meaningful material. At this level, data literacy is critical for data exploration and discovery. It’s about asking and answering questions from your data. And following the data exploration stage, users need to visualise the results for understanding, share their conclusions with a broader audience, and create a narrative around the findings. 

4. Educate:

Educate employees on a common data language and how to use data within the organisation to improve their role and the organisation’s performance as a whole. This can be done through creating a formal Data Literacy Program. Qlik outline here the six steps to constructing a best practices data literacy program if you want to check it out.  Gartner in its recent Analytics & Business Intelligence Magic Quadrant report believes that by 2020, the number of data and analytics experts in business units will grow at three times the rate of experts in IT departments, which will force companies to rethink their organisational models and skill sets.

5. Champion data communities:

Develop and nurture communities and forums within the organisation to champion data and how it should penetrate the day-to-day jobs of employees. It’s important to identify specific Data Champions, some of which should have a seat at the exec table. Tackling resistance from any fractions of the workforce head on is important and data champions can be helpful in this regard.

6. Ensure data governance is in place:

It’s even more important to ensure data governance is in place when opening up data to the business. When organisations are promoting the deomocratization of data and self-serve analytics, leadership must be responsible for data governance. For ensuring answers and insights are properly vetted and accurate.

Where to from here?

Starting a data literacy movement may feel like a mammoth task, after all you’ll be working to ensure everyone can succeed with data and attempting to drive a culture change in your organisation. That’s across lots of workers and departments. The important thing is to start.  Assess progress, communicate results, establish training programs and repeat. Now is the time to bring together executives, employees, and educators and drive a culture of data-driven change.

This journey to be more data driven and improve data literacy across the organisation will be uncomfortable at times, but one we need to embrace.

There are two Qlik whitepapers which are quite useful here.  The first provides the findings from Qlik’s research into data literacy including challenges and insights.

Download Report

This second whitepaper by Qlik provides a blueprint and framework for developing a data literacy program with the enterprise that you can use.

Download Report

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Written by

Sonia Johnson

Sonia Johnson heads Inside Info's Marketing team, as an experienced B2B marketer, having launched and built the Qlik brand in the Australian market. Sonia has 20 years' experience working within the IT and telco industries, having worked for IBM and Vodafone, the last ten years have been focused within the business intelligence and corporate performance management sectors.

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