From zero to data driven: mastering data literacy across your business.

Graham Murphy
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On: 13 Jun 2019
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Data Literacy

When it comes to making the right business decisions, data is the most powerful tool at our disposal. When the right people have access to the right information at the right time, as well as the skills and tools that let them work easily with that data, that’s data literacy — and it enables better, more timely decisions and business growth.

Over the past 5 years, the key buzzword has been ‘big data’ — information that’s high-volume, high-speed and varied in type. That’s still relevant in business, but the real challenge for organisations now is to increase their data literacy.

Think of it this way: data literacy isn’t just having and interrogating large pools of information. It’s a more general, pervasive ability to work with and understand data, right across the organisation, among employees at all levels.

Data literacy – the missing capability.

The challenge for organisations now is to find a way to achieve that level of literacy. In fact Gartner has said that most organisations have such a poor competency in this area, 80% of them will make it a priority by 2020 to improve these capabilities, recognising that being able to read, write and communicate data in context is one of the most important skills an organisation can possess.  

There is a clear opportunity here for organisations to seize a competitive advantage by cultivating data literacy organisation-wide.

For true data literacy, an organisation’s people need to be information driven, rather than blindly “following the data” divorced from context. They should be able to not only question the data but also think about the benefits of enriching it with even better context that would allow them to connect the dots. In a modern organisation, the question “do we have the data to back that up?” should be asked at all levels, freely and frequently, and all colleagues should be prepared to answer.

The data literate organisation promotes self-service and proactivity.

Importantly, data can’t be the exclusive preserve of data science teams. Rather a self-service culture should prevail: that means data is available to all business users, which encourages innovation and empowers business users to draw their own insights. Contrast that to the older model of relying exclusively on specialists: knowledge, insights and the power to make better decisions comes within the grasp of more employees.

Data literacy is also about mindset and taking a proactive approach to information. Employees should be encouraged to think and ask each other about what data would help them make better business decisions. They should also be thinking about what insights they could get if they enriched the data, and about the benefits other business areas could gain from the same information – and vice versa.

Promoting data literacy starts with a single step.

For organisations who are building their data management function, where they will begin depends on how mature they are in their data management and business strategy. Has the company looked at what it wants to achieve, and whether it has access to the data needed in order to fulfill those ambitions?

Companies undergoing a technology transformation have a great opportunity to start as they mean to go on, focusing on what we consider the core data disciplines: data governance, data architecture, data quality management, big data platforms, big business intelligence and reporting and data science. While that might sound like a huge spread, all these disciplines work together to deliver strategic data for everyone.

Context is everything when it comes to data.

Context is paramount in the data world. If we’re talking about making employees data literate, we can give context by considering each employee’s perspective, background and position. We use these things to make the data they use relevant, so they can understand it and put that knowledge towards the responsibilities of the role. Data has no value without context to explain where it was created, what type it is, where it’s stored and where it’s used. Context transforms bare data into real information the business can use to generate actionable insights.

Speaking of actionable insights: effective data visualisations are important, because they give context to the audience and can communicate powerful stories with numbers to decision-makers. If you follow an event from start to finish, you begin to understand why it happened that way. The flow helps us connect the dots and apply context. Data tells us what’s happening. Story tells us why. Combine these, and you have a data literate audience who can now make powerful business decisions.

Think of the new powers that popular data visualisation and analytics tools like Tableau and Power BI have delivered to businesses, even to staff without a background in data science. Collating data from multiple sources, these tools create dashboards and data visualisations which means data is much more easily shared and interpreted throughout the organisation.

Tools like these even offer natural-language query capability, so interrogating the data (and building visualisations) is easier than anyone could have predicted, way back when ‘big data’ was first a buzzword. For example, users can ask such fundamental questions as “which product has the highest revenue?” or “which customers are the most profitable?” saving hours of analysis while delivering important top-line insights. 

Fostering a data-curious culture is critical for success. 

The ideal scenario is one where business users are enabled through self-service to get the data they need, against a wider organisational context where there is an open, sharing, and inquisitive culture of data, backed by a clearly articulated data strategy. In that circumstance, data literacy will improve naturally – even inevitably.

A data literate organisation is one that’s adopted a true culture of openness and inquisitiveness to data. Success comes when insights are driven by the business users themselves rather than by data science alone. Speaking from experience, fostering this culture of data literacy is critical, and the success of all data initiatives depends on achieving those cultural shifts.

Interested in discovering more ICT trends? Visit Three’s Business Learning Centre.