Data Literacy: Finding information in the data

Published on the 31/07/2018 | Written by Heather Wright

Speaking data language_Dexibit

Just as we had to become digitally literate, now the onus is on to become data literate...

Big data and analytics aren’t enough.

That’s the view of Angie Judge, CEO of Kiwi big data analytics startup Dexibit, who says data literacy is crucial not just for companies, but for individuals.

“Analytics is becoming a bigger part of everyone’s job,” Judge notes. “It’s not just for a data scientist or a data team. It’s affecting marketing managers, operations managers, finance directors, CEOs and boards and just as we’ve had to become digitally literate, it’s the responsibility of all of us to become data literate as well.”

“Business leaders are demanding that their employees leverage data day-to-day to drive actionable insights.”

Dexibit uses big data analytics and artificial intelligence to allow visitor attractions such as museums and art galleries to make data informed decisions about exhibitions, visitor behaviour and venue performance. The company counts major venues including the Smithsonian in the US, the National Gallery in the UK and New Zealand’s Te Papa among its client line-up.

With data and analytics becoming increasingly more pervasive, data literacy – the ability to gain meaningful, usable, insights from data – is becoming a new must-have skill. Gartner has even gone as far as saying all companies must take steps to teach all relevant employees ‘to speak data as their new second language’, and a core element of digital transformation.

Judge says “I’d like to see data literacy become more and more part of the leadership conversation – that they use facts and figures and understand trends and things like that in their business from their data, as part of the way they lead, inspire and govern and communicate with their team.”

In March, Forrester Research said while companies are seeking deeper insights from their data, in reality they are only analysing 12 percent of the data they currently have – leaving 88 percent on the cutting room floor, while, SnapLogic’s 2018 Data Value Report noted that data was driving just 48 percent of decisions.

Closer to home, a March survey from software company Qlik showed 80 percent of APAC workers had little confidence in their ability to read, work, analyse and argue with data, despite growing pressure to use data in the workplace. Australia had the second highest percentage of data literate workers, at 20 percent, behind India’s 45 percent. New Zealand was not among the five countries surveyed.

Paul Mclean, Qlik APAC data literacy evangelist says “We can see a clear gap across APAC whereby business leaders are demanding that their employees leverage data day-to-day to drive actionable insights.

“At the same time, however, there is a noticeable gap in the level of support provided to empower employees with the skills and training required to succeed. The assumption that all employees are equally data literate is a dangerous one that could impact strategic decisions down the line.”

The survey also found that more than 40 percent of the 5,200 respondents frequently made decisions based on ‘gut feel’ rather than informed insight.

Mclean says both employers and employees need to take ownership and be more proactive in bridging the skills gap, with companies which are at the forefront of data literacy able to capitalise on the analytics economy.

So how do you start becoming more data literate? Gartner is forecasting that come 2020, 80 percent of companies will have deliberate competency development for data literacy. Just this week, UK supermarket chain Marks and Spencer announced the creation of an academy to teach 1,000 of its employees about retail data.

But for most of us, for now at least, data literacy upskilling is likely to be more ad-hoc.

“In our industry we’re making sure the conversation is part of conferences, that there are webinars and ongoing events to talk about it,” Judge says. “We have working groups for lots of the cities we work with, like DC and San Francisco, allowing colleagues from different institutions to get together and talk and learn from each other. And we publish a lot of material online and run educational and training courses.

“No matter what industry you’re in, I suspect there are probably similar things, and there are great online courses.

“Just having an interest in the subject and making sure you’re keeping up with the news and tech trends. In the same way we’ve all learned about cloud computing and it has the fabric of our everyday lives and businesses, it’s the same thing from the data perspective.”

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