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3 Steps to Build a Data Literacy Program

Jonathan Westley, Chief Data Officer, Experian UK & EMEA


Having a data-informed culture fundamentally differentiates companies that are digital-native from their peers.

Having a data-informed culture fundamentally differentiates companies that are digital-native from their peers

Current data trends are not only changing how organizations operate on a day-to-day basis, but they’re also affecting the kind of people who are most in demand.

A new collection of skills and business roles are needed to manage and unlock data, as well as minimise any risk. Today’s organizations must look beyond the latest technologies when it comes to data. They must pay attention to a variety of new and developing skills, working out how these can be combined with technology to deliver the insights and decisions they need.

Most organizations want to improve the quality of their data and become data informed. Yet many lack the skills and resources within their organization to make the necessary changes. On top of this, a skills gap has emerged in the data space. There are more data roles to fill than qualified candidates to take those roles, which is resulting in a frenzy for data talent. Organizations are starting to turn their attention to data literacy to address the issue.

Why data literacy?

Data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyse, and argue with data. Investing in these skills facilitates data-informed decisions with domain expertise from each business area.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes are perfect candidates for data literacy. The companies that will see the greatest impact from a program that teaches data skills are those that have invested in the data tools, hired data scientists and analyst roles, and even created new policies but have yet to see a high return on investment from data initiatives.

Knowing how to read, write, and argue with data not only helps individuals gain a deeper understanding of how to track trends to make effective and timely decisions. It also promotes cross-department collaboration, alignment with business objectives, and helps increase the value of investments in data and technology.

Ultimately, creating an educational platform for users to improve their data skills promotes a people-first mentality and a data-insightful organization. 84 per cent of businesses see data literacy as a core competency over the next five years, according to research from Experian.

You may be in the early stages of shifting to a data-driven culture or doing an overhaul on your existing data management program to increase ROI. Here are three easy steps to get you started on building a data literacy program fit for your organization.

1. Learn to speak data

To operate as a data-literate organization and adopt data literacy as a core competency, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Who should teach your data literacy program? Do you have existing data experts that could teach business users?
  • Which department needs to develop their data skills?
  • How do you want to teach data literacy? Do you think informal or formal training would resonate better with your teams?

When you think about data literacy skills as a core competency within your organization, look to invest in your current employees to reshape their mindset to be data informed. Next, consider hiring for these skills in new roles to make the next generation of your organization data ready.

2. Reassess existing technology

When you have the right technology paired with a data literacy program, you can help your teams visualise data management, helping them see the inflow, monitoring, and execution of the records within the database. When business users of all kinds are managing data within a centralized location, they can gain the benefits of alignment across the business and cross-collaboration, but equally as important they can start to understand what parts of the business are creating value.

Providing your teams with the right technology will help them be operationally efficient, be capable of identifying and managing risk, and more. The key is to implement a user-friendly tool that will be easily adopted by all your data users, not just the technicians. For example, think about a data management package that connects to multiple databases, has shareable workflows, with secure, administrative rights and of course can populate data into your chosen visualization and analytics platforms.

3. Tell a better data story

Quality insights help inform effective business decisions, like how to position your brand in a new market or target a new demographic. However, when you are looking for leadership buy-in on your business objectives, you need to be able to tell a compelling story around the evidence and why the insights prove this move is the right one to make.  We have to simplify the complex.

With data literacy skills at the forefront of users’ minds, they’ll be able to present key business initiatives powered by accurate data to inform the story. Not only will teams get leadership buy-in for business projects, but they will be able to demonstrate the difference these projects are making using enhanced data management practices.

In summary

A data-informed culture fundamentally differentiates companies that are digital-native from their digital-delinquent peers.

It’s all about the right mindset—from the boardroom to the back office to the stockroom and beyond. Success hinges on all staff taking ownership of their firm’s data literacy— from top to bottom. The most efficient and cost-effective decision-making business will generally be data informed.

Not only does it require leadership from the top, but it also requires a groundswell of engagement from every member of the team. Importantly, by creating a culture where sharing data knowledge and tools are the norms, these responsibilities can be distributed across a data-literate workforce, freeing up valuable time for your data specialists to be truly innovative which drives value and success.