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Improving data literacy remains important

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We all know the importance of accessing ‘clean’ data and the hidden insights it contains. But despite this, in my experience, many companies are still not comfortable with the data literacy skills of their employees. Often, this comes down to not understanding where to begin when it comes to boosting data literacy across all the required levels of the organisation.

I recently came across this insightful article on Enterprise Talk where the author examines five strategies to enhance digital literacy at a business:

  • Empowering those on the edge
  • Make a commitment from the top down
  • Provide hard and soft skills training to all employees
  • Employees should be rewarded
  • Encourage IT collaboration

My sense is that the topic of data literacy is such an important one, yet it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. These identified strategies can be very useful to a company who is wanting to boost data literacy – and so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to express my additional views.

Personally, I am not fond of the term ‘on the edge’. Rather, I feel that it should be viewed as creating something that is fit for purpose. Employees must be empowered to get access to the information they need to perform their jobs, in a format they can understand and relate to. It comes down to making data useable for them.

But data literacy and the drive to become a data-driven organisation must filter down from the top. Yes, it is possible to start sowing the necessary seeds by data stewards at all levels of the organisation. However, to get it actioned throughout the business – and to be taken more seriously, the decision must come from the leadership.

Training will always be important. Even if the data literacy skills are on an acceptable standard, it must continually evolve as technologies change. The only way to spread the message around training is for people to start using and viewing data as an asset. Training must also incorporate things like data visualisation, data-based storytelling, understanding of data and graphs, and approaches to data quality management.

From a reward perspective, there are many KPIs related to data quality management that can be used to gauge success. Employees should be rewarded for achieving those set KPIs, and then the bar can be raised again.

IT collaboration must be encouraged. But there is also a responsibility on IT, BI, and analytics teams to ensure they understand the data, information, and insight requirements of the business. In turn, they must align their activities and projects to those requirements and the related business priorities. In other words, IT and data science must collaborate with business. It is not a one-way initiative.

A Centre of Excellence (CoE) around data literacy skills development plays a useful role if implemented and managed correctly. However, there are other forums that can also be established, managed, and encouraged. One that comes to mind is a Data Governance Council which steers the work and involvement of the data stewards throughout the business. In some instances, a CoE can be too inwardly-focussed. This is where a council can provide that outward focus required to spread the message and management of data throughout the business.

These five very useful strategies should not be considered as once-off initiatives. Instead, a company can embrace all of them and continually review and adapt them to suit the current needs of the organisation and to continuously build data literacy.

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