Elodie De Fontenay & Jill Dawson

Insight Partner, Data & AI / Head of Marketing

  • Data
  • Data Literacy
  • Data Culture
  • Data Creativity

13 Oct, 2021

Data literacy – maximising your business

Data is every company’s most valuable resource (after their people), with estimates suggesting that around 7.5 septillion gigabytes of data are generated each day. Yet, many companies fail to see returns in the data they capture meaning much of this ‘currency’ goes untapped - without analysis, monetisation, or insights.

Why is this? Poor data literacy is one of the main roadblocks to a company’s ability to grow*1. Over the last few years, organisations have focused on bringing data to people through technology enablement, but 50% of organisations still lack the data literacy and AI skills to achieve business value *2. They have not brought their people to the data.

Education systems are not keeping pace with equipping today’s workforce with the data skills they need - the responsibility still lies with employers to fill the gap so that their people can:

  • Understand which data is relevant and how to test its validity
  • Use the data ethically
  • Interpret the data
  • Create insights to extract the right story
  • Make informed data led decisions
  • Work collaboratively with their new digital colleagues/bots

This is where ‘data literacy’ needs to kick in. And it’s an imperative for businesses. Not just to improve commercial performance, but to reduce the risk of non-compliance, foster creativity, and innovation.

Being data literate separates fact from fiction

Being data literate means being able to understand and translate information and it’s a skill that everyone should have (at the appropriate level) to support them in their role. Data shows us what is happening, data does not make the decision for us. We do. Data can support or disprove the hypotheses we are testing, to ensure we are putting resources on solving problems that matter to your customers and employees. It helps articulate business needs and drive greater clarity around insights resulting in better-informed and more inclusive decision making.

This confidence with data should be present at all levels across an organisation. When this is achieved, it provides a strong basis for productivity and innovation.

How to make it happen?

Data literacy is not a tick-box exercise! Being data literate is about being transformative for individuals, communities, and businesses.

It’s essential to lay the right foundations to instil the culture and trust in the potential of data. This needs to go beyond creating a learning curriculum which is often the first port of call for organisations when grappling with data literacy.

Treat it was an integrated change initiative instead.

1. The journey starts with understanding how data agenda aligns with the vision and purpose of the organisation and assessing its data maturity (including data culture), type of culture and learning capabilities. Data literacy needs to be an organisational priority, lead from the top and cascaded down.

2. The next step is the learning programme. It needs to be aligned to people’s needs and tailored to make it relevant to people’s jobs. Do not apply a generic blanket, instead build an education into a collective journey and create bandwidth for people to attend it.

3. The last component of the journey is key: make the change stick. For many, even the word ‘data’ alone can lead to resistance. It can be overwhelming or seen as something that someone else on the team looks after.

Success means creating the right role models, advocacy programmes, sustainability, and momentum in the organisation at all levels. Fundamentally, think big.  Start small in meaningful groups. Scale fast.

Data literacy as a great leveller

A culture of creativity is essential for growth and success. Data literacy may not be an obvious enabler of creativity, but data-literate employees are able to think about problems and solutions differently. They can approach challenges with an analytical mindset and are able to explore and test novel solutions through data, leading to improved productivity and growth.

A data literacy programme helps to build and bring together engaged teams. It underpins data quality, data ethics and responsible AI. It is the springboard to becoming data-led, managing risk and regulatory compliance and, of course, fostering customer centricity. It is a virtuous process too.

There is no finish line to becoming ‘data literate’, we are all somewhere on the learning journey and improving day by day. The important piece is to create a safe space for learning and a culture of respect for everyone, no matter what experience they bring with them. Practical, relevant application to people’s needs is key.

Facts, figures, graphs, curves, and stats are much more closely aligned to creativity than our schools’ systems would have us believe!


*1 Gartner Annual Chief Data Officer (CDO) Survey

*2 International Data Corporation (IDC)

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