The year 2020 will be remembered as the year that changed everything – human behaviour, consumer preferences, market dynamics, the way businesses operate etc. We are witnessing this change even in how we are going about our daily routines. The amount of data on the global pandemic that is currently available is massive. It is not just medical data, but economic data, societal data, community and world response data, educational and cultural impact data, remote and migrated workforce data, and on and on. Hence, to not let data go to waste, enterprises need a strong and data literate workforce. The insights that it provides drive towards more informed and accurate decision making. Organisations armed with such insights can not only react better to expected and unexpected developments but can also proactively plan for long-term business contingencies.
However, before the pandemic, access to enterprise data were strictly limited to C-suite executives, top managers, and in-house analytics teams. Other employees and end users faced challenges accessing it as it required knowledge on how to read, interact with, and make sense of the data presented to extract the optimum value. The ability to derive meaningful information from data is called data literacy. In the similar manner that literacy contributed to human progress over the last few centuries, data literacy will be essential in keeping every person and organisation relevant in this century. More importantly, making sense of data is no longer just a skill of data scientists and technology experts, but it is an essential skill required by all global citizens. Universities and colleges are in a hurry to educate data scientists as fast as they can to satisfy the growing need. At the same time, not all jobs require hardcore data science skills, but what is desperately needed is for every individual to be data literate to participate in and contribute to the data economy. It is a critical time to close the data literacy gap between the executive level and the majority of employees by creating a culture of data literacy, one in which data is clear, demystified and accessible. In short, data-literate employees can survive and thrive better amidst the current market turbulence and, by extension, can help their organisations do the same. Empowered by insights that only data can provide, they can help organisations react better to expected and unexpected developments, as well as proactively plan for contingencies to ensure more seamless business continuity.
Being data literate is not all about coding and complicated tools or programs, but about mastering necessary skills like understanding how to think about data, what information is being collected, how it is collected, and what it can be used for. Sometimes the limits of what you can do with data are even more critical. Being data literate means understanding how to process the data, deal with its flaws, and shape it for one’s own personal requirement. A basic understanding of the most common statistical methods is imperative to know which questions to ask and make sense of the resulting answers. It takes great communicators to see through all the data and information, visualise and understand its hidden messages and eventually communicate the results to the rest. This makes data translators and data visualisers popular and increasingly relevant, as they are proficient in communicating data insights.
One may think that data literacy is not a skill that is required by their profession. Surely that responsibility falls on the likes of data scientists and data analysts. Well, in the current scenario that may sound true, but it is important to remember that data scientists, in particular, are highly qualified, highly sought after and therefore highly paid. It is clearly visible that big data is everywhere and growing rapidly, hiring more and more data professionals is not financially feasible for the majority of organisations (outside big hitting tech firms). The burden must be spread throughout an entire organisation. Just like IT was once a singular department, data literacy must become a skill that is widespread throughout the workforce. The new breed of companies should go over and beyond solely recording transactions or even recommending new products. They use data to predict and influence the action of their customers. In short, data is the key to future-proof any business. This level of reliance on data requires everyone in an organisation to be data literate. This skill is needed not only required to support fact-based decision making but also to enable users to explore and experiment with data to uncover future opportunities. Promoting data literacy among employees starts with redefining organisational culture. Organisations ought to establish data-first cultures that encourage employees the use of data, with strong support for the use of facts in decision making and create a culture that celebrates curiosity and critical thinking within its ecosystem. Creating this type of culture requires both the right technology and the right people. And recruitment may be one of the first areas that would adapt to this shift, as companies focus on hiring data-driven employees who champion the use of data throughout their organisation. This journey may seem uncomfortable at times, but the one we need to embrace. Humans more than machines will oppose this change, but it is clear that it needs to start from the top. Leadership teams need to believe in it, promote the use of it and live by it.
Data literacy is a new language in which we all need to be fluent in. With amplitude of data everywhere, it will become the means of communication between IT and business, between the citizen data scientists and the domain experts. Businesses can win tomorrow's battles today with fresh new insights and ideas from forecasted analytics. These analytics helps to capture critical and unexpected moments of insight seamlessly, without overwhelming the analytics process in itself. It also reduces data wastage as relevant data is not hidden and instead can be used at the point of decision making. Everyone can use data to find growth opportunities and create surprising ways of delighting stakeholders. Give your business the wisdom to make decisions ahead of the market, especially in the new normal, today. Educating everyone on the meaning of data when it is presented in context will drive new social conversations far in the future. This will allow us all to clearly understand how our societies and economies really work and fully understand what our priorities need to be, so that when the next pandemic hits the world, we are prepared and informed. The learning we are doing now will be the best defence for our future, while helping us make immediate decisions to inform our reaction to this one.