Data literacy has become a truly indispensable skill for corporate workforces as companies have picked up the pace on digital acceleration and core IT modernization throughout the pandemic.
However, many senior management teams may greatly underestimate the data literacy gaps faced by their respective workforces. At the start of 2020, an Accenture survey found that 75% of C-suite level respondents believed that all or most of their employees can work with data proficiently. But the very same survey — which encompassed 9,000 employees in a variety of industries and job roles — showed that just 21% of workers felt confident in their digital literacy skills.
To establish digital literacy as a foundation for future success, organizations must drive change across three key areas: people, processes, and technology. By addressing these three areas as part of their digital literacy initiatives, organizations can ensure that employees at all levels have the confidence to not only evaluate data but also translate data analysis into actions that deliver results.
1. Get Sponsorship From The C-Suite
Leaders must clearly grasp the scope of the digital literacy challenges they face within their organizations and throw the full weight of their authority behind efforts to bridge any data literacy gaps. Companies will face a steep uphill climb if they do not secure top-down support from the C-suite level for any and all data literacy initiatives.
Getting buy-in from all C-suite executives is a minimum requirement for successfully implementing any data literacy initiative. Ideally, senior management should be actively involved from the start and lead the charge. But even the best-intentioned efforts could still falter unless leaders also assign clear ownership for data literacy initiatives within their organizations.
2. Infuse Data Into Company Culture
Beyond having engaged leadership, organizations should prioritize the development of a company culture where employees at all levels have the responsibility and knowledge to leverage data. Any organization that hopes to make the most of its employees’ expertise and insights cannot afford to relegate data to the domain of IT and data scientists.
Likewise, the answer for addressing data literacy is not found in technology alone. An organization cannot assume that it can overcome its data literacy challenges simply by purchasing a shiny new SaaS platform or a CDP. Instead, organizations must provide employees with purposeful training and guidance so they can make the most of such software tools.
3. Assess And Invest In The Right Infrastructure
Software tools that are easier to understand and interact with can provide a smoother learning curve for all members of an organization looking to achieve data literacy. These include low-code/no-code platforms and solutions that have already been enabling business users to interact with and leverage data without needing to take coding classes or turning to IT departments for assistance.
Each organization will also need to carefully consider how to build infrastructure that enables employees to easily access, adopt and engage with all the necessary data and tools. Smart infrastructure decisions can make the difference between democratizing data access and isolating potentially useful data behind digital moats or walls.
4. Implement And Encourage Employee Training
Now comes one of the most important steps in making any digital literacy initiative a success — training the employees. Organizations can start off on the right foot by encouraging open dialogue about data interpretation so that employees feel more comfortable with sharing their perspectives while engaged in the learning process.
Digital literacy training can be further enhanced by setting up cross-functional teams and establishing internal data centers of excellence that promote collaboration and learning across different departments. Organizations ought to make third-party resources and learning modules/courses available to employees. But they should also identify change agents internally or recruit such individuals to help implement internal data literacy capabilities and programs.
As companies build their internal capabilities, they can benefit from strategically partnering with third-party service providers that specialize in data analytics and data engineering. Those external service providers can help build the initial pilot or use cases that prove the organization’s strengthened data analytics capabilities. Such data-literate partner firms also bring much-needed expertise and encourage cross-pollination of analytical frameworks.
5. Measure Success In A Data-Driven Workforce
With the right infrastructure and training in place, it’s time to really reap the benefits of an empowered and data-literate workforce. For practical applications, it’s important to not just talk about them but to actually put relevant real-time data in the hands of employees on the frontlines in ways that force them to pay attention to what the data can tell them. The practice of using data to inform decision-making must move beyond the purview of data science teams and become a habit among the marketing and merchandising teams or even store-level sales staff
The results of such data literacy initiatives will also need to be measured. This can be done over time with the OKR framework that has been used widely by leading tech companies such as Google, Amazon and LinkedIn. But as with all new initiatives in tech and business, it’s important to start small and remain agile when assessing both the impacts and changing needs of the organization.
Any early examples of measurable success within a data-literate organization can help breed additional success. By sharing success stories internally, leaders can establish a positive feedback loop that encourages other members of the organization to notch their own data-driven successes.
Data Literacy In A Digital-First World
Data literacy has become a must for any organization to successfully achieve a digital-first transformation. But despite much interest in pivoting to digital-first models during the pandemic, a 2020 BCG report suggested that 70% of companies’ digital transformation efforts generally fell short of achieving their objectives. Such “digital laggards” also run the risk of falling behind the competition on everything from customer engagement to innovation.
Companies must embrace digital literacy as a fundamental aspect of their corporate culture and select the appropriate technologies that can empower employees to go forth and confidently wield data to inform their daily decision-making.
Author: Venkat Viswanathan
Venkat Viswanathan is the Founder and Chairman of LatentView Analytics, a marketing analytics and decision science company.