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Data literacy: Closing the gap and opening up new business opportunities

Data literacy: Closing the gap and opening up new business opportunities


“The more empowered employees are to read, write, analyze and argue with data, the more they will be able to contribute to their roles and the future of their organizations.”

Bernard Marr, data strategist and best-selling author.


Today’s business world is ruled by data. And those organisations that are unable to harness the full power of data are limiting themselves. The problem is not a lack of data usually, but rather the inability to work with data that can create a barrier. It’s the people factor.  


What is data literacy?


According to BI specialists, Qlik, “Data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze and communicate with data. It’s a skill that empowers all levels of workers to ask the right questions of data and machines, build knowledge, make decisions, and communicate meaning to others.”


Image credit: Qlik


Literacy, in a linguistic context, is defined as the ability to read and write. But in reality, literacy is a gateway to understanding and experiencing life in full. You’re lowering the drawbridge and granting access to a castle of knowledge and opportunity. 


The same is true for data literacy.  The ability to read, use and communicate with data is also a language. It is the second language of business. And not being able to understand and communicate in this new digital language is more than a barrier to this vast world of information. The castle guards are pulling up the drawbridge as you approach, leaving you tottering on the edge of an alligator-filled moat!


Since the IDC forecasts a ten-fold increase in data by 2025, data literacy is a business imperative across every vertical. For Lloyds of London, the world’s leading insurance provider, their focus is on ensuring employees of all skill levels can achieve more with data. 


They created a Data Centre of Excellence. And, together with a user-friendly website called My Data, they provided their employees with an overview of all their business data, including access to apps and dashboards, and how data is used. With the dual aim of improving data literacy and sharing how they extract value from data, they are making great strides into fostering a data culture. 


To follow in the footsteps of innovators like Lloyds, and avoid falling into an unpleasant chasm, businesses must address the gap in data literacy. They need to build their own drawbridge and provide access to all levels of data users—employees, managers and business leaders alike.   


Who is falling into the data skills gap? 


According to a recent data literacy study by Qlik and Accenture, a mere 21% of the global workforce feel confident about their data literacy skills. This leaves a large percentage of employees that are not leveraging data to the full. 


A common reason behind this ratio is a dated approach to data analysis – where only a select few specialists manage and extract insights from a business’ data. Knights guarding the data vault. But, this approach is changing, and must change if c-suites wish to maintain their rule of the economic landscape. 


And while business leaders are responsible for encouraging and supporting data literacy throughout the business, it’s important to remember that they need to be data literate themselves. Qlik also reports that only 24% of decision-makers consider themselves truly data-literate, leaving a lot of room for growth. 

Execs that lead by example, by expanding on their data skills, will not only strengthen their own capacity, but also foster a culture of data literacy among employees.


Nick Blewden, the Head of Business Intelligence and Data Products at Lloyds comments: 


“In the digital economy, all our staff are users of data, and we’re working with a huge range of data literacy abilities. The need to up-skill is nothing to be ashamed of or frightened of. However, it does need to be taken seriously — particularly in an industry like ours where we are under intense competitive pressures and need to operate as efficiently as possible.”


He also adds, “Ultimately, all the data personalities across our organization have one thing in common, and that’s that they want to understand the value they can get from data. Once they experience direct benefits to their working lives, and potentially even a career boost, they want to keep engaging with us and accessing data independently.” 


By addressing the data skills gap, at whatever level it occurs, it will help build a bridge to new business opportunities.   


The impact of data literacy on business and BI 


Employees that lack data literacy skills don’t perform at the same level as those who use data confidently in their roles. 


As a result, those not engaging with data are inhibited from extracting insights that could result in innovation or improve their productivity. When 48% of the workforce would rather trust their gut than data-driven insights, the journey to business intelligence and valuable insights is stopped in its tracks. 


And the same applies to the business as a whole. The higher the enterprise data literacy level, the greater value the business can generate. 



Breaking through data literacy barriers


Information overload often results in confusion and causes employees to withdraw from a task. In the data game, an overload of information has the same effect and creates a barrier to understanding and applying data.


Though providing access to data is a key component in democratisation, it is only one element of a broader solution. By merely increasing access to data, you could run the risk of overloading employees with information. As a result, they may feel overwhelmed and become less productive.  

A further barrier in the data literacy journey is the constant change in BI technology. Employees need to continually learn and master new technology, and this can be stressful too. Learning new applications takes time and mental energy, for employees and execs alike. 


Yet, as a business leader, it’s up to you to ensure that democratising data is a reality in your business. And ensure that those efforts don’t go against employee wellbeing. It’s about being cognisant of the human side. Consider how your business can actively support employees in adopting new working practices with data. 


Closing the data literacy skills gap


Upskilling employees boosts their confidence and willingness to engage with data. And with support and training, they’ll begin to leverage data in their roles. 


You can help to narrow the gap by following these steps to develop and strengthen a data-driven workforce:


1. Set your data expectations


What do you want to achieve with your data? How will it deliver value to your business that you can measure? Decide on clear goals for your data and how different managers will achieve these goals. 


Whether the data user is a shining data knight or a regular business user, all data users can benefit from insights and improve their performance and further the business’ goals.



2. Create a data roadmap


To pave the way to a data-driven workforce, you need to first take a good look at the state of data throughout your organisation. Your findings will help you determine what resources your employees need to achieve the business’ data goals. 


These three focus areas can help keep you on the right track. (And out of the dark, dangerous woods where competitors lie in wait.)

  • Assess the individual levels of data literacy
  • Establish what technology each type of user requires
  • Define the data needs for each data user to be productive


And don’t forget about the human side – it’s not about merely providing the technology, for example, but also supporting them in using it correctly and confidently. 

Image credit: Qlik 


3. Upskill employees 


As a business, you need to provide employees with all the tools they need to get the most from data. And this could include developing their basic data literacy knowledge, for instance. Plus they’ll need practical training on how to use technology effectively, and easy-to-use software solutions to explore and analyse data at their own pace.  


To compound the benefits of data insights and maximise business value, teams should be able to share their findings easily too. Read our blog to find out how modern data teams are collaborating around data


Practical data literacy training 


To improve employees data literacy knowledge, Qlik and the Data Literacy Project offer comprehensive training from basic to specialist level. 


Data users can get started with the Data Literacy Project’s free assessment to gauge their data literacy level. The site also provides users with a personalised roadmap to improve their data literacy knowledge and skills step by step. This is a great way to get them engaged and develop a sense of curiosity to learn more.


Easy-to-use data analytics solutions


A further way to support data users is through user-friendly solutions, like self-service analytics.


As more users have access to and become confident using data in their daily tasks,  they require intuitive solutions that match their data capabilities. And this growing demand in the market is fulfilled by self-service analytics. Developers are receiving more and more requests to create self-service solutions in businesses. 


And though this trend enables those with lower data literacy levels to access and analyse data independently of data science teams, it can still take time to develop these solutions.  


Self-service solutions, like those offered by Vizlib, provide intuitive, easy-to-use BI tools. With Vizlib’s value-added products for Qlik Sense, users don’t require any coding skills and can safely create customised, eye-catching data visualisations.   


Vizlib dashboards


When data users receive the support they need in their data literacy journey,  they’ll be more confident to explore and analyse data. Their growing proficiency in this emerging language will open the gateway to their own growth and greater value for the business. 


Guide them over the drawbridge into a land of knowledge, empowerment and productivity. 


Getting Started with Vizlib

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Check out our tutorial videos on the Vizlib YouTube channel or our practical blogs on creating eye-catching dataviz to learn more about our user-friendly solutions. 


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