Building data literacy skills for data-driven cultures

12 May 2022 4 min. read

As businesses of all sizes become more aware of the value that data can bring to their operations, many are seeking ways to make their staff more data literate. Theo Hourmouzis, Regional Vice President at Snowflake, outlines how organisations can advance their data literacy capabilities.

The desire to become more data literate is being driven by the changing way in which data is used. Where once it would have remained the domain of the IT department or data analytics team, it’s now being accessed and put to work by staff throughout organisations.

In essence, effective data literacy is the ability to recognise, read, understand, create, and communicate data as information. Literacy also allows that data to be applied effectively to business decisions and actions.

Theo Hourmouzis, Regional Vice President ANZ, Snowflake

Creating a literacy program

To improve the overall levels of data literacy within an organisation, it’s important to begin with a structured program. This program should have four clear goals which are:

Increased awareness: Many people may not have a clear perspective of how they are already using data and the ways in which this usage could be improved. For this reason, the first step in the program should be to increase awareness among staff at all levels and across all departments.

Improved understanding:  While some people may understand the need for data-driven decision making, many may be unsure about exactly how this can be achieved. Take time to ensure all staff understand the steps that are required.

Enriched expertise: Once awareness and understanding has been increased, the next step is to enrich staff expertise through focused training. This will ensure all have the knowledge and skills they require to extract as much value from the data they are using in their roles.

Scaling knowledge: Once knowledge has increased for some staff, they should be encouraged to share this with other members of their teams. This can help to support a data culture throughout the organisation and lead to significant business benefits.

Driving organisation-wide change

For a data literacy program to be successful, there will also need to be organisation-wide change. This will have the goal of creating a truly data-driven culture that will guide decision making, investments, and the allocation of resources.

Experience shows that organisational change tends to happen slowly over an extended period. It takes time to shift attitudes and habits and alter work processes and flows to support new objectives.

At the same time technological change happens very quickly. New tools and capabilities can deliver extended capabilities for staff to undertake tasks that previously would not have been possible.

To ensure that organisational change happens fast enough to allow an organisation to take advantage of new technologies, a structured change management program will be required. This program should be designed to allow a more rapid shift in structures and attitudes so that all potential business benefits can be realised.

Part of the program also involves explaining to staff why the changes are needed and what benefits they will deliver for them personally. It might be that the introduction of automation tools will free them from hours of tedious work or that new sources of data will better support their planning processes.

The importance of executive support

Any program designed to drive organisational change and improve data literacy needs to be supported from the top of the organisation. Senior executives should communicate the importance of what is being done and the benefits that will flow for the entire business.

In increasing numbers of cases, executive support is being further strengthened through the establishment of a Chief Data Officer. A Chief Data Officer’s role is to guide all data-related activity across an organisation, determine where challenges may exist, and take the steps necessary to overcome them.

Through taking this approach, an organisation can ensure its data literacy levels are as high as possible and all staff have access to the data they need to fulfil their roles.

Rather than being something stored in the depths of the IT department and only accessed by a select few, data can truly become a valuable business resource used by everyone.