Digital societies are turning scarcity on its head. Streaming services spoil us with choices, e-commerce sites offer greater ranges of products, and even business software is now a buyer’s market as many services compete for our patronage. Information gains the most from the digital era — we have unlimited data and choice. That abundance, though, creates a problem for organisations.
Businesses are drowning in data. But experts say the issue is that they have little data. They need to learn how to gain advantages from the deluge of information. Yet ignoring the matter in favour of “business as usual” is likely to reduce their competitiveness, says Jeanine Mouton, solutions architect at Atvance Intellect.
“We have to know the different industries of our clients to understand the data in the context of our clients’ businesses. In addition, our knowledge of the security, ethics and governance of data is an essential part of our data literacy. As a result of this skill, we can ask the right questions of our client’s data or devices, gain intelligence, discover the significance of the data and assist our clients in making data-driven decisions.”
Data literacy is the art of swimming with insights. It’s a necessary business capability that most companies need to cultivate more effectively. Chief data officers speaking to Gartner placed poor data literacy among their top three barriers preventing better data culture. When Accenture polled 9 000 employees in 2020, only 21% expressed confidence in their data literacy skills.
The case for developing data literacy is solid, yet producing this skillset is proving to be as challenging. Why do we routinely struggle to strengthen data literacy? It starts with tackling common misconceptions. Companies fail to grasp the value of their data, don’t pay enough attention to improving employees’ data skills, and don’t address the gaps between technical and business teams. They ultimately need to give the subject more attention.
Fixing data literacy problems
Ideally, companies should be spinning data into information. But their ambition falls short for several reasons, according to John Moll, knowledge and information manager at the SA Cane Growers’ Association and client of Atvance Intellect. For example, they hang onto the dogma that data literacy is only suited to young employees or primarily belongs to technologists, thus neglecting targeted skills development across their workforce.
“Training is important, and not just for specific data-related skills. You need multiple technology skills to raise data literacy,” says Moll. Though businesses prefer to upskill their employees, data literacy skills tend to get less attention, and “a formal data literacy programme should exist within the organisation. The business could incorporate fun or rewarding activities to engage the employees.”
He also notes that companies overemphasise technology’s role in data literacy but underdevelop the link between technologists and the rest of the business. Mouton agrees, adding that a disconnect between business and IT in most organisations prevents an interchange of knowledge.
“Business practitioners could learn more about what information they can get from the data, and IT could learn more about what type of information the business needs. Efforts should be made to connect IT and business and increase their interactions,” says Mouton. She encourages companies to invest in business analytics tools and co-develop dashboards and reports with IT. Such tools will also help improve the quality of data — another reason why companies often fail to realise data literacy.
“Without the right analytics, data will just be data, and there is no value in that.”
Yet the most significant data literacy error is when intention and action don’t align. Successful companies assign a central person who drives data literacy, quality and governance. In the longer term, this focus increases the value gained from data and supports all the above efforts to realise data literacy.
The new business language
Leading business schools from MIT Sloan to Harvard Business School emphasise data literacy’s critical role in successful modern companies. Data is everywhere. It is the emerging language businesses use to understand their markets and operations. Competitive companies emphasise data literacy and then support that intent with focused leadership roles, adequate training and technologies that help better clean, manage and understand their data.
“They say that your data can tell a story,” says Mouton. “For the story to be true, your data needs to be correct. By keeping the data literacy programme alive and growing the organisation’s data analytics platform, an organisation will keep benefiting long term because the data will be dependable and valued and understood by all.”
About Atvance Intellect
Atvance Intellect offers a seamless approach for actionable data intelligence, cybersecurity and privacy protection. Wherever beneficial for our clients we leverage what we call Data3 being the synergy between our three divisions to provide a consolidated service to our clients in data management, protection and exploitation.
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