Written by

Bernard Marr

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.

Bernard’s latest book is ‘Business Trends in Practice: The 25+ Trends That Are Redefining Organisations’

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Why Is Data Literacy Important For Any Business?

2 July 2021

The more data literate your organisation is, the better your results will be. In my work with companies all over the world, I see it every day that organisations that fail to boost data literacy of their employees will be left behind because they are not be able to fully use the vital business resource of data to their business advantage. In this post, I explore what data literacy is, why it’s crucial for every business and ways to promote data literacy.

What is data literacy?

The first step in data literacy is the ability to communicate, write and read about data in context. Then, employees, not just data scientists, need to critically assess the data, find meaning in the numbers and glean actionable business insights from it. Employees with expertise over a business area are going to be the ones that are best able to act on data insights to create results. This is why it is critical for everyone in your organisation, not just data analysts, to have access to data and a basic ability to read and use data. Not only can your organisation make decisions based on facts when it’s data literate, but users are able to experiment with the data to uncover new insights and opportunities. Putting data to use, not just collecting it, is the key to the future of your business.

Why does data literacy matter for every business?

Even though spending on big data and analytics products is supposed to surpass $200 million by 2020 according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), 50% of organisations will still lack the data literacy and AI skills to achieve business value. It doesn’t matter how much data your organisation collects; it isn’t beneficial until it gets put to work for your organisation. Data must be analysed to get actionable insights before it provides business value.

According to a Gartner Annual Chief Data Officer (CDO) Survey, poor data literacy is one of the main roadblocks to the CDO’s success and a company’s ability to grow. To combat this, 80% of organisations will have specific initiatives to overcome their employees’ data deficiencies by 2020 Gartner predicts.

Data literacy is to the 21st century what literacy was in the past century. It will propel forward momentum and success. It’s essential for everyone in an organisation to understand why it’s important to improve data literacy. Employees should be able to use data to influence their day-to-day activities as well as big-picture decisions. If used the right way, it can help every employee achieve their objectives, perform their job better and contribute to overall company performance. And, when you give everyone access to the data, it can make your operations more streamlined and efficient since those who know their business won’t have to wait for data scientists to interpret the data for them. The bottleneck is removed.

In addition, employees who are data literate will also understand how to handle data appropriately, which will reduce the number of data breaches (employees are currently responsible for 40 per cent of security breaches).

How to promote and begin to build data literacy

As part of my job as a strategic data advisor to companies, I have helped develop many data literacy programmes and have helped countless organisations boost their data literacy. Here are six essential steps that will help you increase the data literacy in your organisation:

1.      Determine your organisation’s current data literacy Establish the current data literacy of your organisation. Are your managers able to propose new initiatives backed by relevant data? How many people are actually using data today to make decisions?

2.      Identify fluent data speakers and data gaps Not only do you need data analysts who are adept at speaking naturally about data, but you also need to have “translators” who can bridge the gap and mediate between the data analysts and business groups. Also, identify where communication barriers are preventing data from being used to its full business potential.

3.      Communicate why data literacy is important Those who understand the “why” of initiatives are more likely to support the training to get there. Be sure to explain why data literacy is essential for your organisation’s success. 

4.      Ensure access to data It is vital that you have a way for everyone to access, manipulate, analyse and share the data. This step might involve finding technology such as a data visualisation or management dashboard that would make this easier to do.

5.      Create a data literacy programme by starting small Don’t overextend yourself launching a data literacy programme for everyone all at once. From the assessments of “missed opportunities” with data, start with one business unit at a time. What you learn in your pilot programme can be used to adjust the programme for the next time. Be sure to make your data literacy programme fun and engaging. And remember: data training doesn’t have to be boring!

6.      Lead by example Leaders of your organisation need to prioritise data insights in their own work to show the rest of the organisation the priority your team puts on using data to make decisions and support daily operations. Insist that any proposals for new products or services are backed up with relevant data and analytics to support those ideas. Over time, this emphasis on data will create a data-first culture.

While every organisation might have a unique path to data literacy, it’s clear that every organisation must start their journey if they haven’t yet, or they will be left behind in the business world of the future. Data literacy will drive success, and the more data literate your organisation becomes, the better results you will have.

If you would like to get some help in boosting the data literacy in your business, then just get in touch. 

Data Strategy Book | Bernard Marr

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