Why data literacy matters for business success

Redefine your business with data literacy

Recent findings from the Open Data Institute (ODI) concluded the UK government still requires a consistent definition of data literacy, and that there’s not enough emphasis on the non-technical skills also involved in understanding and communicating data.

Data is about facts, data literacy is about the ability to recognise, interpret and communicate the insights you can derive from these. This entails a range of skills, from the technical management and analysis of information, to the vital, albeit often neglected need for storytelling.

To make the most of data, organisations need to foster a strong data culture as part of a well-articulated data strategy, to develop these skills among an entire workforce no matter a person’s technical capability.

The importance of having a clear data strategy  

Actualising a well-articulated data strategy means placing employees at the heart of data-related operations and must be aligned to an organisation’s overall business strategy. This involves establishing common repeatable methods, practices, and processes to analyse data, and being able to communicate insights across the business.

For organisations to get valuable insights from their data analytics it can’t be the responsibility of technical professionals alone. Various departments need access to insights relevant to their functions, which means they also have a stake in data literacy. Realising this will create a paradigm shift within the business, where data is leveraged as a tool for improved decision making, and insights will be regarded as more approachable, with employees coming to appreciate the value of data as a resource for improved performance, rather than avoiding it due to perceived inaccessibility.

How organisations can foster a data culture 

Aligning data strategies with overall business strategy and operations is no mean feat. Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are ideal candidates in marrying together data analytics and the wider business, given their appreciation of informed decision making, and the desire to foster a data culture where internal information is properly managed and engaged with throughout the organisation. Moreover, their understanding of the technology landscape will assist when making platform and software selections.

This stands to benefit all departments, who’ll gain access to the tools and skills needed to work with data and derive insights. CDOs also embody the “can do” approach to professional development, believing it’s possible to train employees in data-related skills, regardless of their technical proficiency.

There’s a well-established correlation between hiring a CDO and business success, with research from Forrester suggesting 89% of organisations harnessing analytics to improve operations that appointed one to oversee the process have seen a positive business impact.

Despite the apparent benefits however, many business leaders remain closed to data-related transformation, with further research suggesting 51% of CDOs believe resistance from the C-Suite and senior management is a major obstacle to developing a data-driven business.

Why storytelling matters for data literacy 

A standard response to filling an organisation’s data literacy gap is hiring more STEM grads with the statistical or coding knowledge befitting data scientists or ML engineers. However, this is complicated by research suggesting only 43% of 16-21 year-olds consider themselves data literate, and 48% believe their education hasn’t prepared them for the commonplace use of data in organisations today.

While STEM skills remain important, I believe we can build a new generation of data champions amongst those graduating with degrees in all subjects, despite misconceptions around some graduate’s applicability to data professions.

Humanities subjects like philosophy allow graduates to explain their views with a thorough grounding in logical reasoning, while social sciences disciplines like political science teach the importance of communicating with diplomacy. Inviting these skills into the fold allows an organisation to communicate insights via data storytelling that’s comprehensible to any audience, whether business or technical.

Storytelling is a universal language that we all understand. When told well, stories are aesthetically pleasing and convey lessons via memorable, creative content that resonates with audiences.

Where data was once mired in mundane reports consisting of obscure, overly technical language, it can be made comprehensible allowing any audience, including business leadership, to understand the value it holds. Business audiences exposed to this medium are already acknowledging the benefits of communicating insights in this manner, with 93% of organisations agreeing that successful data storytelling gives rise to decisions that increase revenues.

Starting the data revolution

Data holds immeasurable value for any business, but it needs to be communicated by professionals across various posts and experience levels. This requires data specialists from a range of backgrounds, each with their own skills to help realise its full potential.

An appreciation for data in the C-suite is crucial to creating these rich analytics environments. With a CDO in place to ensure ongoing data education, employees will be empowered to work with analytics and play their part to drive the business forward.

About the Author

Helena Schwenk is the VP, Chief Data and Analytics Office at Exasol. Exasol is passionate about helping companies to run their businesses smarter and drive profit by analyzing data and information at unprecedented speeds. The company develops the world’s fastest in-memory database for analytics and data warehousing, and offers first-class know-how and expertise in data insight and analytics. The in-memory analytic database is the first to combine in-memory, columnar compression and massively parallel processing, and is proven to be the world’s fastest topping the list in the TPC-H Benchmark tests for performance.

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