How to find the story in a business’s data and then action it – Interview with Rene McGregor

While it is widely accepted that data is the lifeblood of our increasingly digital world, not all organisations are able to collect, manage, analyse, interpret and then apply insights from data. If data were currency, then only some people in some organisations truly know how to earn it and spend it.

It’s broadly understood that a data literate person can read, understand, communicate, argue and apply insights from data. Often, it is believed that a once-off literacy intervention or solution will suddenly “upskill” a workforce, allowing the C-suite to move on to another project. This could not be further from the truth.

Data literacy is a journey whose goal is to enable and empower workers at all levels of the organization to find the story in their data, and then use it in their business. C-suites invest in business intelligence (BI) tools with the hope that their workforce will miraculously make real-time, intelligent decisions. This seldom happens without a clear data strategy. Do the employees really understand the story the data is telling them?

Modern data analytics tools which encourage and drive data literacy can unlock immense value throughout an organisation, and should be part of a holistic data strategy that encompasses everything from capture, processing, analytics, planning and more. But fundamentally, businesses must still proactively drive data literacy across the workforce to gain the promised value out of their BI investment.

This doesn’t mean that everyone suddenly needs to become a data scientist. On the contrary, that is the opposite of real organisational data literacy. Think about this for a moment: we all have smartphones. These phones, and the apps on them, collect a huge amount of data, and then we – through interfacing with the phone – use this data to make decisions to suit our lives. We do it almost subconsciously because we have grown accustomed to how its use adds value – where and when to eat, what to order, how to purchase and much more. We do this without being analysts.

Similarly, in an organisation, there are various departments and touchpoints that all rely on lakes of data for decision-making. The teller must appreciate how what she or he enters affects the decisions being made about inventory. Managers rely on the inventory movements to plan stock purchases and to capitalise on trends. This cascade continues all the way up to the head office trying to make sense of patterns, performance and anomalies, while preparing forecasts that will affect every aspect of the business.

While the teller should understand that scanning a popular grape juice as orange juice can have a costly knock-on effect down the line, he or she does not need to understand data and trends in the same way that the finance team does, or the way a customer service agent does when fielding calls from customers.

It becomes obvious, then, why the pursuit of data literacy is not a single box-ticking exercise. Some organisations have a chief data officer, some nominate business champions, but data literacy must be owned and driven from the top-down as part of the business’s overarching data strategy.

The data literacy journey can take on any one, or more, of the following forms:

  • There could be one-on-one training with users to enable them to read and understand the data relevant to their functions, and to empower them to use the various tools at their disposal;
  • Companies may choose group workshops where the purpose is to understand the business goals and then find the story in the organisation’s data;
  • Technical training, where users at various levels and departments in the business are taught how to ask the right questions of the data and make changes with their BI tool;
  • A coordinated series of interventions to enable a business to see the big picture over multiple sources of data silos, and then training employees how to tie that data together to make better decisions across the whole organisation;
  • Democratisation of data across the business, which makes it more available to more people to improve and speed up the decision-making of everyone.
  • The most effective way that partners can enable the ongoing data literacy journey for businesses is by focusing on a broad spectrum of solutions which are tailored to the unique circumstances of the business. Ultimately, a business needs to free its data, find it, understand it and then take actions based on the story it is telling.

Insight Consulting’s focus is on helping customers with their data strategy – this is front and centre, which then supports and feeds into the important areas of data capture and processing, data integration, analytics and visualisation, planning and industry solutions.

Has your organisation truly unlocked its data capabilities in order to improve its business? If not, it’s time to seriously focus on data literacy.

Interview credit to Female Entrepreneur SA for the official publication.

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