Bernard Marr is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the fields of business and technology, with a passion for using technology for the good of humanity. He is a best-selling author of 20 books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations. He has over 2 million social media followers, 1 million newsletter subscribers and was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK.
How Do You Improve Data Skills and Data Literacy in your Business?
2 July 2021
How data literate is your organization? If your company is like most of the companies I work with, your organization has room to improve data skills and data literacy. Since we live in a world fueled by data and businesses that have people with the relevant skills to extract insights from this data perform much better and outperform competitors, data literacy is one of the most important skills to build today.
Data Literacy is Important for Any Business
Data isn’t beneficial to your organization until it gets put to use for your organization. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find a business that isn’t collecting some data that could be leveraged to improve business. Unfortunately, too many companies are falling behind because they aren’t data literate. Data literacy is as important to this century as reading/writing literacy was in the past century.
Some companies have tried to increase data literacy by hiring external data experts to join the organization. The issue with this strategy is that it is typically very expensive and when data analytics needs to all funnel through these people with data skills, bottlenecks are created.
I recommend you broaden out your data expertise throughout your organization. Create the culture, build trust and provide the tools to give everyone in the organization the ability to use data by themselves to inform decision-making.
Barriers to Data Literacy
Oftentimes, organizations believe that if they have the data and the technology in place to give employees access to the data, that’s all they need to improve data literacy. However, that’s not the case. Here are some other considerations.
Does your company culture support data literacy? If you have a command-and-control environment, you might as well save your investment in data literacy because it will fail before you even start. Cultures that embrace data literacy start from the top. The culture in your organization needs to allow people to use data, come to conclusions about the data and then make decisions with the data without needing to wait for approval from top leadership before they can act. Leaders need to delegate authority to employees so they can actually use the data and make informed decisions. Without this data-driven decision-making culture in place, it doesn’t matter how data literate your employees are, they won’t be able to actually make decisions and act from that literacy if you don’t allow it.
Data and data exploration technology
There’s little doubt that your organization is collecting data, but is it collecting the right data? Is the data compromised in any way? Data is vitally important for organizations; it’s the one of the most important and valuable assets they have. However, if your organization isn’t collecting the data it needs to achieve its strategic objectives or if the people using the data don’t trust it, your company will miss out on opportunities. Additionally, the appropriate technology to store and process the data is necessary to allow everyone in the organization to effectively use it. Data exploration tools that allow business users to map, visualize and slice-and-dice the data are critical. You must also have an integrated data layer tool or technology that pulls data out of silos.
In order to improve data literacy in your organization, data skills must be acquired. There are a number of free online courses that can help give employees data skills they need to use data productively.
Another way to improve the data skills in your organization is to partner with outside specialists such as consulting companies or universities. I would caution you to not completely outsource these responsibilities as it is expensive and then you’re not building your internal expertise. However, hybrid teams that combine your internal resources with external data science teams can help build data skills and literacy in your organization.
Data is your competitive advantage, so it’s important to develop data skills and literacy within your organization. Sometimes that means adding new positions such as adata translators—this role sits between the business function and data science team to help bridge and facilitate conversations. This was a role we added when I helped Shell strategize and plan to improve its data literacy.
Another successful initiative deployed by Shell, Walmart and others was to schedule regular data hackathons that connected people from the business with the data science team. During these hackathons, business units explain a particular business problem to learn how data and data analytics could help them solve that problem. Walmart’s version of a hackathon are data cafes; physical cafes where business leaders meet with data scientists to figure out solutions.
Investing in data science is one of the most important investments any business can make today. But to make that investment deliver a valuable return, you must create the right culture, collect the right data and help your people acquire the right data skills to succeed.
Where to go from here
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