data literacy

What does it take to become a data-driven company?

1st you have to have data. Huge amounts of data – from within the company as well as outside sources. Right?

2nd you have to manage that data properly in order to make any sense out of it. Right?

3rd you have to have world class solutions and analytic tools in place to present the data and flash off fancy graphs and dashboards. Right?

All the above boxes should be ticked with countless others, but what it comes down to in the end is people and their capabilities to make use of that data. Creating a data-driven culture, or any culture for that matter, is all about the people. Data literacy is at the heart of data-driven culture. Data literate employees understand the data, the definitions behind it and the implications of the data. They can critically analyze and interpret the data at hand, make conclusions, decisions and create additional value form it. They can “speak data”. People are the real drivers behind a data-driven culture.

"Data literate employees understand the data, the defintions behind it and the implications of the data."

Easier said than done? Yes.

There are countless things to do and to do correctly in order to start creating a data-driven culture. There are, however, a few key things to consider, that helps you toward that goal.

  • Data-driven culture (including data literacy) has to be on the management agenda.

Utilization of data is essential for companies to prosper and even survive in the near future. There are a lot of studies made on this subject, and they all tell a grim story for whoever is not up to speed. To be amongst the winners in this race, Data-driven culture needs to be a management priority. Even better, harnessing the full potential of data should be a strategic focus driving behaviour in the organization.

  • To be able to promote data literacy within an organization, data requires robust management and stewardship.

Now that data is in the focus, it needs to be properly managed and nurtured. Clear ownership, common definitions, rules and guidelines throughout the organization work as a foundation in creating the “data language”. Data literacy is created though learning and speaking this language. Without grammar, any language would be incomprehensible.

  • Leading by example

All cultural changes tend to depend heavily on a small group of people embracing the change and acting as champions for the cause. You should not underestimate the power of champions in leading the change and fighting for data literacy and data-driven way of thinking. Find the champions in your organization – data natives, who see the hidden potential and can show it to others. Or why not establish a CDO position filling it with an enthusiastic fore fighter of data-driven culture and data literacy. And let them loose!

  • A data literacy program should be part of the companywide people and competence development

Obviously gaining a data-driven culture is not that simple. While champions can make many wonderful things happen, it still requires the whole organization to be data literate. A way to reach this, is to establish a data literacy program. A clear structure to training and practice through which everyone can learn to speak data on the level required in their work. (Note that not everyone needs to speak native data.)

As any training, the data literacy program has to take into consideration each individual’s starting level and desired level of competence. Level of data literacy can be a part of a more robust Business Intelligence Maturity Assessment or done separately through a few key questions about how well your organization understands data – how many people in your organization can explain or describe data definitions, calculation rules, KPIs and visualizations and critically judge them in the context?

  • Curiosity in the heart of learning

The single most important thing in creating a data-driven culture and data literacy is curiosity. People will learn new things as long as they are curious about it – and everything else around them. Curiosity should be embedded in your company’s culture in order to enable personal and organisational development. Through enabling curiosity, through data literacy and through data-driven culture discoveries can be made. Discoveries which in best case scenario lead to better performance – more efficient processes, enhanced services and products and new business models.

In short

By embracing data and its possibilities, enabling data-driven culture, data literacy and people development in strategic focus, companies can achieve real business impact through data. Management needs to set the way and point the direction; People are needed to take control of the data and create value out of it. What use is the best possible set of data if nobody can speak it. Data literacy is key.

I would love to say it is never too late to start, but I would be lying.

Mikko Eriksson is a Head of Business Analytics within Capacent in Finland. He has over ten years of experience in Business Intelligence solutions in various industries and functions, e.g. within IT, Finance and Commercial.

If you are wrestling with translating data into insights or simply do not have the resources to do that, do not hesitate to contact Mikko for more information on how we can help you to create sustainable value in your business.