Taking the first steps on a data literacy journey

Toni Sekinah, Research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Corporate data literacy is defined by Qlik as the ability of a company’s workforce to read, analyse and utilise data for decisions, communicate with data throughout the organisation, and use that data in decision-making.

At a panel discussion held at the launch of the Data Literacy Project, a group of data professionals gave their opinions on the best way to begin the journey. Though ostensibly a discussion about data literacy, the panellists also gave advice that could equally be applied to career growth and skill development.

"Remind yourself how you are already using numbers."

Members of the public as well as those in organisations often bemoan their lack of aptitude in maths. However, according to Martha Bennett, principal analyst at Forrester, it is vital for us all to recognise that we probably are much better at numeracy than we think we are, and an understanding of numbers is essential to making optimal decisions.

”If you’re one of those people that numbers don’t resonate with, remind yourself just how you are already using numbers and think about what you actually need to know to take the best decision,” she said.

Chris Gray, managing director at Manpower UK, said it is important to recognise data literacy as an in-demand requirement and future skill, and to think about it in terms of where you want your career to go, be that within the data world or outside of it.

He said: “If you want to beef up your data literacy skills, go with an open mind. Think about where you are today and establish the areas that you need to improve.” Gray emphasised the need to focus on soft skills and domain experience, as well as those specifically related to data. Important soft skills that he had previously mentioned were communication, collaboration and problem-solving.

"Take your curiosity to learn new things and build on that."

In the same vein of accumulating skills, Axel Goris, European lead of visual intelligence and analytics at Accenture, would advise those interested in beefing up their data skills to take advantage of the incredibly rapid rate of change in technology we are currently experiencing. This could be a challenge, as it means it is very easy for incumbent organisations to be disrupted by those that are more agile, nimble and open to change.

Despite this, to ride the wave of innovation to the max, Goris said that individuals should never stop experimenting. “Technology developments are going so quickly. It is an exciting, but also quite a scary time. You have to take your eagerness and curiosity to learn new things and build on that. If you pick up some new technology, you can become the expert in that because with the new technologies there are not that many experts,” stated Goris.

Paul Malyon, data strategy manager at Experian, referred to the hot topic of the year, GDPR, and directed his advice towards consumers. He said that GDPR means that companies should be more transparent and therefore consumers should use their new rights. He said: “It is there to help you get control of your data.”

"Data makes the company more democratic."

There is a major upside to upskilling in data literacy within organisations that one might not necessarily think of, according to Debu Dasgupta, VP of AI and analytics at Cognizant. “Data makes the company more democratic,” he said.

He added that those democratic organisations are more ready to devolve power to people who can use data and thereby make decisions. In contrast, organisations that are run in a top-down fashion will not find value in employing data literate people.

One could interpret this statement as saying that democratic companies in which decision-making is devolved are more likely to use data. One cannot be sure whether those being data-driven and democratic are linked by causation or just correlation. Either way, people being more data literate and companies being more democratic cannot be a bad thing.

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skills