Data dunces — British businesses still not prioritising data literacy

British businesses and data literacy — it should be a priority.

Imagine collecting over hundreds of thousands of books, full of knowledge and insights, but never read them to find out what you could learn. This is what UK organisations are doing with their data, collecting, or ‘hoarding ’ data without extracting any business value from it.

Today, everyone knows data is essential to business success. However, just having the right technology and technical skills to handle rising levels of data is no longer enough. Organisations need employees with the ability to look beyond the numbers in front of them, interpret the data and gain business value.

Data understanding, also known as data literacy, is the ability to read, analyse and ‘argue with’ data to gain valuable information and effectively apply it to the business. Another key part of this is data storytelling, the ability to communicate the value of data to others. CEOs or investors may lack the skills to interpret data, employees with data storytelling skills brings a competitive edge in today’s business environment.

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Value of data underestimated

To move forward data needs to be the driving factor in UK organisations. IT leaders need to help employees understand the value of data for them to make data-driven decisions, the alternative to taking action on ‘gut instinct’ – without evidence, conscious reasoning, or understanding, generating poor results and leading the company in the wrong direction.

Some UK organisations have looked to hire new talent to promote the use of analytics across the business. Research shows that over half, 51%, of IT leaders looked to hire either a Chief Data Officer and Chief Data Analytics Officer in order to lead the data initiative. More needs to be done than just selecting a few people to drive it forward. UK business leaders need to emphasise the value of data across the whole business with organisational culture changes.

Data initiatives which focus on ‘team building’ – such as running internal hackathons and competitions – encourage workers to value data more. An approach which lead the way two years ago as nearly half, 49%, of organisations ran internal events. By focusing on the organisation as a whole rather than one IT leader banging on about data, its importance will become valued over something ‘their boss told them to do’.

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UK’s data skills gap

UK organisations currently have a critical data skills gap when it comes to data understanding – being able to understand the ‘So what?’ has never been in higher demand. It is known that over half of organisations need to better explain the business impact of insights and data visualisation, while 48% were prevented from achieving business goals due to this lack of insight and interpretation skills.

Boards need to take action to avoid falling behind in the data race. They have to focus on gathering the necessary skills – whether up-skilling current employees, hiring new staff with the desired skills or working with external agencies.

Although employing consultancies can save time, organisations are seeing the need to keep data skills in-house rather than turning to external agencies. Luckily for employees, only 32% of UK organisations outsource for data skills, while 52% redeployed transferable skills and 47% up-skilled current staff.

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People vs automation

The ‘People vs automation’ debate has been high on the agenda for many UK organisations as they strive to become more data-driven. Employees are worried that robots will replace them and boards question the sudden investment required to introduce automation. However, luckily for employees, recent research shows people are winning in this debate. Over half, 67% of UK business leaders claim to be investing between £500,001 – £5,000,000 in data initiatives, with 54% investing 21-40% of the total amount on people.

UK business leaders are also focusing on people when it comes to the future of their data. IT leaders have considered skills which should be developed in higher education curriculum to prepare future generations. Rated most important was data analytics at 36%, while data literacy and communicating the business value of data followed in second and third.

Significant progress has been made across UK organisations to understand and interpret valuable data. Business leaders have taken on data initiatives in order to tackle the data skills gap and ensure current employees are prioritised over external consultants and automation. In addition, organisations are focusing on people over automation, as well as viewing the skills shortage as ‘short term’ in up-skilling the future workforce. Yet, with many data skills still needed, including data science, statistics and data engineering, more needs to be done. To gain any business value from data UK organisations need to up-skill data dunces.

Written by Bill Hammond, founder and event director at Big Data LDN

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