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Five principles of data literacy

Paul Malyon, Head of Data Literacy, Experian


Five ways organizations can start moving towards a data-literate culture and become a genuinely data-informed business.

Five ways organizations can start moving towards a data-literate culture and become a genuinely data-informed business

It’s clear the vast majority of businesses see data as among their most valuable assets, vital to success. Being a genuinely data-informed business is of huge importance to winning a competitive advantage. However,recent Experian research suggests that although companies have an abundance of data, they are struggling to achieve their data-informed goals.


The research found a big part of this is down to a lack of skilled data professionals. Though some businesses may have had to put hiring on pause in our current climate, they can look to upskill their existing workforce to give them the necessary skillset to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data. Investing in these skills across the enterprise enables organizations to quickly and effectively make data-informed decisions, with the added benefit of domain expertise from each business area.

But where do you start on this journey? Here’s five ways organizations can start moving towards a data-literate culture.

Go back to basics with training: It’s important for people to see data literacy as a life skill, akin to a new language or learning an instrument. 84% of those surveyed see data literacy as a core competency that all employees need to have in the next five years. CDOs and their teams therefore need to appeal to a broad range of interests to help link the use of data at work to the use of data at home. A good way of doing this could be leveraging tutorials that look at commonly used websites and apps and how data powers those services and decisions. For example, when looking to relocate, what data goes into the property website and how is it visualized to help drive that decision.

Develop a data culture within your organization: A data-informed mentality must be embedded across the entire organization. This starts with the CEO and office of the CDO, but it also extends to all business users that interact with data, regardless of whether they carry a data job title. Only by instilling a sense of data ownership and accountability will a cultural shift take place and the level of trust evolve. Our research found seven in 10 say a lack of data literacy skills in the business is impacting the value they get from investments in data and technology.

Make applications suitable for all levels: With the move to becoming more data literate, more individuals across the organization will use data applications. Stakeholders need to consider the usability of these technologies as they move from a technically savvy user to a generally data-literate business colleague. Any application must be readily adaptable and suitable for adoption at every level of the business. The value of straightforward features like drag-and-drop capabilities simply cannot be overstated when trying to engage a wide audience in data-informed decision-making. As with most commercial applications, simplicity and ease-of-use that can be deployed within days—and without the need for the continual involvement of hard-pressed IT teams—will always win in offering speed and value over needless complexity.

Tell a better data story: Use key metrics to determine the success of data initiatives but tell them in a business context. Relate new initiatives back to business success metrics. For example, if you improve the quality of an email address file, don’t talk about the number of deliverable email addresses. Instead, relate that back to the number of customers you could connect with, how you could provide a better experience for those customers, and the revenue that new access provided to the business.

Consider your corporate structure: It’s clear that those with a CDO in post already have their ongoing competitiveness front-of-mind and are keen to ensure a commercial advantage. They are also likely to be pressing ahead and are more than three times as likely to have a formal data literacy program in place than firms without a CDO. That role is seen to be leading these initiatives to ensure data-informed success. Ultimately, becoming a data-literate organization is a lifelong commitment. It requires leadership from the top via the CDO, but it also requires a groundswell of engagement from every member of the team and a clear purpose that is communicated via strong data storytelling and celebrations of success.