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Four ways business leaders can harness the $500m data literacy opportunity

Jordan Morrow, Global Head of Data Literacy, Qlik


Capitalize on the business potential of data literacy with these four strategies.


The uncertainty around Brexit and the country’s poor performance on productivity growth is a black cloud looming over the UK.

Seizing new opportunities in such an environment has never been more important, but how can British businesses be truly equipped to take every opportunity for growth and innovation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The key lies in equipping employees – at all levels – to confidently interpret data for stronger business outcomes. This is not just about upskilling in today’s analytics economy. This is about increasing enterprise value, and our research has found that businesses with greater levels of corporate data literacy – the ability to read, work with, analyse and argue with data throughout the organisation – have a 3-5% higher enterprise value, a potential increase for large enterprises of between $320 and $534 million. Furthermore, it improves other metrics of corporate performance, including productivity and gross margin.

Businesses could be doing a lot more to harness this half a billion-dollar opportunity, with four critical areas holding many back. Those that wish to capitalise on the potential improvements to corporate performance should consider these key recommendations:


1. Ensure data literacy is at the heart of the business 

Corporate data literacy cannot be achieved based on having a number of skilled individuals. While an important component, our research found that two further dimensions were critical to reap its benefits: making sure that data is distributed throughout the business and that people have the authority to make data-driven decisions in their role. 

While grassroots initiatives can be a great driver of data literacy initiatives in the business, this brings to the fore the important role of business leaders in ensuring that data literacy is at the heart of the company. This means putting in place the training, processes and infrastructure to enable data-empowered employees. 

2. Bring data literacy to everyone

It isn’t enough for just the IT or business intelligence team to have access to their data. Putting data into the hands of employees at all levels and in all roles enables them to make more informed, better decisions – whether that’s managing available beds in a hospital, or in product design. 

Large organisations should consider having a Chief Data Officer that sits out the IT function, tasked with democratising data access across the business. When supported by data analysis and visualisation tools, everyone can improve their decision-making skills by learning to ask the right questions from their data, interpret their findings, and take informed action.

3. Be ready to change

While nearly all business leaders acknowledge that data is important to their industry and in how their company currently makes decisions, businesses aren’t adapting to take advantage of data to improve that decision making. In fact, only 8% of firms have made major changes in the way the data is used in the last 5 years. This means that even companies with data literate employees across every business unit are not turning data into useable information as effectively as possible. 

Business leaders must adapt their decision-making processes to empower and enable employees to harness the true value from their data. 

4. Invest in a culture of data literacy 

78% of employees are willing to invest more time and energy into improving their data skillsets. However, when surveyed, just 17% of business leaders reported that their companies “significantly encourage” employees to become more comfortable with data.

Business leaders resoundingly understand the importance of data literacy, with two-thirds of companies planning on hiring more data literate employees. But, with just 24% of the global workforce being fully confident in their ability to read, work with, analyse and communicate with data, hiring external talent isn’t enough. 

Business leaders must more invest in their own workforce with data literacy training, with just one-third of firms currently offering data literacy training. This needn’t be great sums on external trainers, as many free educational resources can be found on the Data Literacy Project. But they should invest in giving their employees the additional capacity to gain a better understanding of data and explore the opportunities for it to transform their own tasks.     

Data literacy has become a necessity and a requirement for everyone in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Data will become the second language of business, empowering and enabling employees to make better decisions and perform better in their roles.

With a half a billion-dollar opportunity on the table, business leaders can’t afford to overlook the potential of having a more data literate organisation. These four recommendations are an essential starting point for any company looking to capitalise on this immense economic opportunity.