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Why you need to improve data literacy and access in your organisation now

Wed 2 Dec 2020 | Eva Murray

Eva Murray, Technology Evangelist, Exasol discusses the sharpened data literacy imperative – and how to achieve it

We unarguably live in an age where data is king. Statista has estimated that there will be 149 zettabytes of data in the world by 2024; that’s 149,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilobytes of data. These numbers are too big to comprehend.

With so much of this data generated by and informing us about consumers, it’s no surprise that forward thinking companies are increasingly expected and required to use the insights from this data to improve how they operate. The volume, detail, and quality of data is improving year on year too, and the continued pressure to produce timely insights to keep up with both customer demands and competitors that comes with this shows no signs of slowing down.

COVID-19 has now accelerated the pace even further. Crises often force businesses to make rapid changes and decisions, both to remain resilient during challenging times and so that they emerge ready to fasttrack their recovery. As McKinsey states: “An organisation designed for speed will see powerful outcomes, including greater customer responsiveness, enhanced capabilities and better performance in terms of cost efficiency, revenues and return on capital.”

It therefore comes as no surprise that 84% of organisations have been under pressure to shorten decision-making cycles since COVID-19 hit, according to our latest research, with 74% expecting it to be the new normal for their business.

To take full advantage of the opportunity, organisations need to be able to process data faster than ever before, so that they can make business-critical decisions to ensure they recover from this crisis — and any future crises — and continue to succeed using data-driven insights.

Power to the people

One of the most obvious ways to accelerate decision-making is by maximising the number of people  involved in the process. Our research suggests that organisations that have increased the number of people involved in decision-making are twice as likely to also see an improvement in speed. This kind of democratised decision-making can truly empower organisations, helping them to adapt to change faster. Organisations’ ability to achieve similar results will depend on the capabilities of those additional individuals asked to contribute to decision-making, and the tools they are provided with. Involving more people in a single decision can risk slowing businesses down, but empowering these people to make more day-to-day data-driven decisions relevant to their role has the potential to significantly increase velocity.

Data literacy is key

One crucial factor that organisations need to consider before expanding or reducing the pool of decision makers is the level of confidence in data literacy within the business.

Data literacy is fundamental to both successfully enabling more people to be involved and to gaining value through faster decision-making. 84% of organisations surveyed agree that they’d benefit from specifically improving the data literacy of their workforce, while almost a third (32%) were unable to report any sort of confidence in the levels of data literacy within their businesses.

For post-crisis planning, knowing the level of data literacy among employees is important in order for data leaders to understand who should be involved in decision-making and what steps to take in order to improve. It also illustrates how analytics challenges are not always about technology. On a positive note, it’s good to see that 85% of organisations have reported taking action to improve levels of data literacy within their business as this will help them build skills among their staff that are important during crisis recovery and beyond.

Leading organisations ramping up efforts to democratise data access, while increasing their use of data science disciplines, enables them to be more forward-looking and competitive.

A culture of success

Data literacy is fundamental to gaining value through both speed and informed decision-making, and if it is achieved across the business, your organisation’s culture can become increasingly data-driven. Often, data teams are battling a lack of efficiency and effectiveness because the conditions for a culture of data excellence have not been established from the beginning. Building a strong foundation of data literacy to pave the way for a strong data culture is a big opportunity as businesses emerge from the crisis.

Democratising data ensures employees have access to insights that can inform and help the decisions they must make in their day-to-day role. With this approach in place, an organisation can drive real cultural change, turning analytics into a day-to-day contributor to the business rather than a standalone business function. The more exposure employees have, the quicker they learn and contribute to the overall data culture and goal of becoming a data-driven organisation.

How can we drive change and create a data culture in the most effective way possible?

Leading from the centre

Structure is important. Employees need to have the framework and support to integrate new tools and ways of thinking into their everyday work lives, and a support network to help them through growing pains.

A Data Centre of Excellence (CoE) can offer all of these elements. Comprising supporting experts in the field of data analytics — often borrowing individuals from different departments as an inter-disciplinary team — a CoE acts as a central pillar of data culture.

In the long run, the CoE will drive education around data and help employees to use the right data in the right way. As a result, decision-making improves across departments as reporting and analysis outputs become more reliable. Additionally, data teams will become more efficient in their data collection, refinement, consolidation and delivery, and infrastructure teams can establish more advanced setups for the growing need for highly-performant data that can be accessed across the business.

Leading by example

Many organisations are also looking to a Chief Data Officer (CDO) to shape and enact a data strategy that supports the data culture top down. KPMG suggests that organisations with a CDO are twice as likely to have a clear digital strategy. The ongoing education of the organisation’s workforce is a fundamental part of such a strategy.

The commitment of the CDO is to drive the business forward across the board, from revenue growth and advancing internal innovation to improving operational efficiency. Achieving these results relies on having the right skills in your people and triggering their imagination and innovative ideas. The CDO is one of the best-placed individuals to make knowledge of data an integral, normal part of the everyday life of an organisation.

A combination of these elements — a robust framework that allows comprehensive cross-workforce support, and a leadership team that includes a role dedicated to the advancement of data — are fundamental to improving data literacy and access across the business. This is a key milestone not only in driving cultural change, but in pursuing a genuine standard of data excellence.

Experts featured:

Eva Murray

Head of Business Intelligence


culture leadership
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