Monday 3 December 2018 12:15 pm

Data literacy is a win-win for businesses and employees

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerates, in which data and automation are pervasive elements, debates around the impact these technologies will have on our working lives are widespread across the media, academic circles and the government. However, nowhere have these changes sparked more action than in the business world.

With uncertainty around Brexit and the UK’s poor performance on productivity growth simultaneously looming over British businesses, it’s crucial that they seize every chance to remain competitive on the global stage. But are they equipped to take advantage of the crucial opportunities for innovation and growth afforded by technology? Faced with the challenge of planning for a future where machines will augment our work and transform job roles as we know them, business leaders are having to consider what skills will be required by their workforce in the coming years.

However, this doesn't necessarily equate to recruiting machine learning experts and data scientists. In fact, the most important factor is ensuring all staff is data literate – that is the ability of every employee to understand, analyse and interrogate data. This will be as critical to delivering future products and services as building the technologies that generate it. Giving them access to quality information and the confidence to base their decisions on it, as well as distributing it evenly throughout a business, is the key to enlightened working in the future workplace.

However, the associated benefits extend beyond an upskilling initiative. No matter the department or business function, data holds the potential for a more profitable business. Our research highlighted that almost all global business decision makers surveyed cited that data is critical to how their organisation makes decisions. But this recognition hasn't translated into an appreciation for the massive opportunity presented by data literacy, the processes that enable employees to exercise their data skills, or the tangible financial benefits that can be derived from doing so.

For example, The Data Literacy Index – commissioned by Qlik and conducted by IHS Markit and a Professor from Wharton School – found that more data literate firms have a greater enterprise value of between 3-5 per cent. For our sample, this represented $320-$534m of the total market value of each business. The companies with increased valuations also saw similar improvements to productivity, gross margin and other corporate performance metrics, and all performed well against three critical criteria for data literacy: improved individual data skills, democratising data across their enterprise (not solely in IT), and enabling employees to make data-driven decisions.

Concerningly though, just 34 per cent of firms currently provide data literacy training and only 17 per cent significantly encourage employees to become more comfortable with data. And even those employees with data skills do not always have opportunities to apply them to their roles, with just 8 per cent of businesses having made major changes to the way the data is used over the past five years. To counter this, businesses must put in place the training, processes and infrastructure to enable data-empowered employees.

With less than a quarter of the global workforce confident in their ability to read, work with, analyse and communicate with data, hiring external talent isn't enough and great headway clearly needs to be made for businesses to take advantage of the data revolution. Creating a strategic framework that empowers employees with autonomy over how they use data in their work will be crucial for businesses that want to achieve data literacy nirvana and reap its rewards. Embracing the opportunity now will give companies an advantage as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution and battle with an uncertain economic environment. Before long though, it will be essential to survive.

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