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Developing a data literate workforce

The acceleration of technology means that we now live in a world built on data - it is everywhere, forever growing in value and significance. It has the potential to make hugely positive changes to the way we all live and work. But it all means nothing if you can’t use it.

Innovation in data technologies certainly make it easier to simplify data, enabling people to analyse, interpret and draw actionable insights from it more quickly. However, these tools simply become impractical if the individual doesn’t have the right skillset to use it.

So, isn’t it time to start thinking about a workforce and a society that knows how to access data, generate better insights, and feel empowered to inform decision making at every level of the organisation and at every stage of their lives?

Defining data literacy

Today, data literacy is becoming as necessary to us as a second language. In fact, some may go as far as saying that data literacy is as critical as numeracy. But, what does data literacy actually mean?

In business terms, it’s an employee’s ability to read, work with, analyse and argue with data, allowing them to extract and apply meaningful insights to the benefit of the organisation. For many companies, having a handful of experts in data who can do this is commonplace, but data literacy happens when everyday employees can access data, and understand it, at any time without requiring support from data specialists.

And perhaps most importantly, data literacy requires a culture in which data is valued by all as a primary vehicle for decision making.

The business opportunity

As individuals, data is becoming a more accepted part of our daily lives and we are more aware than ever before about our own personal data and how organisations are using it. Equally, it’s an accepted, and important, business asset. This was highlighted in recent research from Experian which suggested 98% of companies are using data to improve the customer experience.

The most innovative companies in the digital age are using data and technology to build superior, hyper-personalised experiences for customers and make the most relevant decisions based on that information. It stands to reason that if innovation relies on data, then organisation who have a data literate workforce will thrive.

Whilst organisations may be clear on the opportunity data provides for innovation and growth, there appears to be less clarity on how data literacy can impact that. As a result, organisations have perhaps struggled to define or prove the value of investing in formal data literacy skills.

That’s until research by the Data Literacy Project uncovered a relationship between data literacy and the value it provides back to an organisation. By creating a model that ranks an organisation’s literacy score against corporate performance, the results revealed a $500 million opportunity for businesses. Further to that, the organisations ranked in the top third of the index were associated with three to five per cent greater enterprise value.

Building the foundations of data literacy

For those organisations putting in the foundations for data literacy, here are four questions to address in your mission to empower a more data literate workforce:

  1. Access to data – can business users get hold of the data they need to gain better insights and drive change, or is it owned by a specific department?
  2. The right technology – is there user-friendly and privacy-first technology available that can support positive outcomes from data?
  3. A clear framework – is there a centralised programme, often led by a CDO, which can consistently drive to improve data literacy and the tools available?
  4. A culture of curiosity – is there a network available to help people ask questions of data and those who work closely with it?

Although daunting, a more data literate workforce gives you a chance to transform a business for all the right reasons. The challenge is finding an effective way of integrating the new behaviours, processes and roles that are required to be successful, embedding them into the heart of the operation. Those who live and breathe this way of doing business, embracing the new standards and focusing on what's right for their customers, will find many chances to prosper this new data-driven world.


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Paul Malyon

Paul Malyon

Head of Data Literacy


Member since

12 Feb 2019



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