How Data Literacy Can Benefit Your Organisation

by Jason Williams, Delivery Lead – Altis Canberra


Since the start of COVID-19 organisations are beginning to realise the importance of data and will begin to consider how to utilise data available to them. As part of this, organisations need to ask themselves, do our staff have the necessary skillset to derive meaningful insights from data and convert this to actions? The answer to this is generally no.

Organisations are collecting more data than ever, from claims, performance measures, and even every call, email or interaction. Collecting all this data allows organisations to benefit through improved service delivery, program design, improved services and operations or even workforce planning/talent acquisition.

In the past only large organisations could build a data lake and make use of this data, now the opportunity exists for all organisations through cloud-based options at a small to moderate investment, but all benefit.

We know that we have all this data at hand and it’s becoming more powerful and influential than ever, however, there is still a problem that exists, and that is that the majority of us are not very good at interpreting data or making sense of it. While data may be a priority in organisations right now, across organisations confidence in using data is low. Data literacy provides a competitive edge because greater data literacy increases higher enterprise performance, with data-literate workers performing better at their jobs, compared to the rest of the workforce.

It’s common knowledge that data-literate staff are always hired by data-driven organisations, however, a common issue arises where silos occur as a result of these data-literate staff being confined to IT and reporting areas. As organisations become more interdependent on one another, these data-literate staff need to be where the decision-making is actually happening. When this doesn’t happen, poor non-evidence based decisions are made.

For these reasons, it’s more important than ever that your organisation has the ability to read, work with, analyse, and argue constructively with data to ensure a competitive edge across each industry.

Previously it was the responsibility of schools to teach these types of skills, now it sits with employers where skills development programs have the opportunity to flourish. Data literacy should be a concern for every person across an organisation, not just a select few in specialist areas. This is a responsibility that all employers should embrace, as they are in a position to benefit and reap the rewards.

Data skills have changed over the last decade, from organisations requiring skills in data extraction, manipulation and SQL. Now, most of these functions are embedded in various data platforms and technologies, skills have changed to requiring people who understand these systems and how they work, but also understanding data and what it tells, along with data security and governance.

From various discussions I’ve had with different organisations, there seems to be a common theme around skills lacking within their organisation in data-driven decision making and problem-solving involving:

    • The ability to understand what data is relevant
    • Knowing how to ask the right question and what it is
    • Having the ability to interpret the data
    • Having an ability to create visualisations that makes sense
    • Tell an appropriate story that helps decision-makers take action

We will always need more advanced technical data skills, however, the soft skills and having the ability to understand data and make decisions is making a bigger difference.

These skills are now essential for most roles in each organisation, however, with these skills being sparse in most organisations, it’s difficult to identify where to start in improving these data skills. My advice to most organisations is to start with the basics, make sure people are speaking the same language (consistently across an organisation) and that they know how to use basic tools.

While most technologies provide reporting and analytics functions, for most data consumers Excel remains the common technology that helps them feel like they’re in control of their data. Beyond this, I advise investment in data skills, in particular advanced specific job-related skills, as an aligned program is more likely to work as the data skills needed by your workforce are carefully selected. This can involve specific training in business intelligence tools or even data governance training.

Statistics and numbers can be off-putting for most, however, I emphasise the benefits of improving these data skills for the overall organisation. The main benefits reaped by individuals and organisations include better decision-making and confidence in making these decisions, better judgement and better use of time. It makes it possible to utilise data in all decision making, determining what data you may have to support or contradict your program design or design and whether these are correct.

Data literacy is more important than ever for everyone in an organisation, from HR, financial, policy, program and service delivery areas. Organisations require staff to have the ability to interpret data, create insights and informed decisions. These aren’t skills only in specific people, they are skills that anyone can develop through appropriate training and now there are many ways to support this, improve capabilities and drive change going forward. Data shows, data-driven decision making improves business outcomes and success.

Find out more about our Data Literacy Training Program here.

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