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How data culture and data literacy are shaping your organisation for the better

Data is in constant evolution, and it’s time to figure out how to democratise it efficiently. Data democratisation is a robust trend that’s spreading around the world. It’s the process of making data more accessible and available to people in an organisation. That doesn’t mean data scientists are already dead, but they are no longer the only ones who have access to data. 

To be honest, and to prove how fast data is evolving, we went quite rapidly from data scientist being the sexiest job of the century in 2012 to reassessing its usefulness a few years later. That’s because the democratisation of data has led to many new trends, and one of them, called “data citizenship” — which is the idea of giving employees access to data so they can use it for the benefit of their work — has a major impact on the relationship between organisation, people, and data.

But, on the other hand, we have more and more complexity in the world of data (policies, processes, business intelligence tools, among others), and we still expect nearly all employees to be able to use it in their roles. This is where data governance is key as data regulation (such as GDPR) and data protection are needed to avoid the wrong use of data.

Data, as an asset, needs to be protected because there are people behind personal data. Data culture isn’t about giving uncontrolled access to all your data to everybody; it’s about teaching employees to deal with it in an orderly, efficient and responsible way.

Therefore, this gap between data democratisation and data governance needs to be closed thanks to an effective data culture that will make data skills available to the people who need it. For instance, Lorin Witt, a professor at Wharton Business School, found that the business opportunities that data presents are supported by three key elements: better access to data, stronger data skills, and a culture that supports data-driven decision making throughout the organisation. All these elements are linked to data democratisation and, to allow it, companies need to spend more time developing their data culture through “data literacy”.

…leads to Data Literacy….

Data literacy is the ability to read, understand, create, and communicate data as information. It’s about understanding how to use data to make better decisions and about making sense of a world that has been digitised and transformed by technology. 

The concept of data citizenship is possible thanks to data literacy programmes, which stem from our increasing understanding of the importance of data and how we can use it to our advantage.

More importantly, it’s a skill that’s becoming more and more fundamental for the 21st century and hence every employee should have —not only those working in IT departments or with analytics skill sets.

That’s not to say that everybody should be a data scientist with deep technical knowledge either. We don’t expect people to develop new algorithms with their data. We simply expect them to achieve better business outcomes from their understanding of the data they are dealing with.

The benefits — in the workplace and for society — of harnessing data literacy don’t end here. It can help people make better decisions in general, understand how the world works, increase efficiency, and communicate more effectively with others — just to name a few.

That said, it’s important to note that only 21% of the global workforce is fully confident with their data literacy skills, which means there’s still a long way to go.

…that creates a need for organisational data-related change.

Data democratisation, data citizenship and data literacy are obviously calling for cultural, technical and organisational changes to have an impact.

One way to move forward with these concepts is by breaking down the data silos between departments, functions and teams. This will allow for data to flow more freely and make it easier for people to find the data they need, when they need it.

It will also make data more accessible to those who aren’t experts in that specific field. HR and Finance are usually the first departments to benefit from these transformations, as they provide some key use cases that will unlock many situations.

And, once again, remember to do that while respecting the regulation rules, personal data protection, professional secrecy — you name it. Data culture always includes awareness of data governance rules. Keep in mind that if you want to go faster with your car, it means you will also need better brakes. That’s how you should approach your relationship between data culture expansion and data governance vigilance.

Another way is by improving and nurturing the company’s data culture. Through it, organisations can build a system that can identify the changes in data and make sure they are implemented correctly across all departments. Normally, companies create data office departments that will own the data culture activities.

One reason for that is that departments such as the CIO, CTO, CMO or CFO will invest time and resources in data and that a central function needs to be able to own the activities and lead everybody in the same direction.

Another way companies can propose cultural changes is by implementing business intelligence tools, such as dashboards or data analytics tools, that help them visualise the data in a way that makes sense for them. It will foster cultural changes, help identify data champions as well as key data issues that will be mostly related to data quality and data governance, generally due to inconsistent processes and IT tools’ weaknesses.

Why we need to apply these data-related changes

Data is undoubtedly on everybody’s minds, however, 67% of executives aren’t comfortable accessing or using data resources, according to Coursera (Understanding and Delivering the Business Case for Data Literacy Skills). We are still at the beginning of the digital transformation, and the data revolution as well as technologies evolve faster and faster.

Data management changes are important  —for both companies and individuals—because they help make better decisions, solve problems and understand the world in a less biassed way.

Data is a powerful resource and a key part of modern business. It can provide insights into customers, operations, and more, making it a fundamental component of their decision-making process and success metrics. But without the right data culture, it can be difficult to use data to its full potential, and it can be difficult for companies to achieve their goals.

Data culture should be built from the ground up and it needs to be an integral part of the company’s DNA. It will help with data literacy, but also with the proper data organisation and data framework, which is crucial for businesses that want to take advantage of their data.

Data can be used as a competitive advantage that, in turn, can be used to fuel innovation and create new business models. This shows that one of the strengths of valuable data is the relationships and insights that it delivers. And, it helps maximise the use of their data assets while preparing for the automation power that Artificial Intelligence will deliver once we are managing data the right way.

How we can apply these data-related changes

We have seen what changes data is bringing, and why it’s important to cope with them. But how can we do that knowing that data changes touch organisation, people and technology?

One foundation that’s common to all is change management, which is about leading people through the process of changing their attitudes and behaviours to align with a new way of working.

Data literacy is a powerful tool that can help organisations become more successful in their change management process by helping them adjust quickly to data-related changes in the environment.

Establishing and fostering a data culture is key too. It’s one of the most efficient ways to ensure that your organisation will obtain a return on investment from your data investments and drive change.

With the Big Data hype that started ten years ago, we would have thought that by now most companies would have a strong data culture. However, according to the 2022 NewVantage Partners survey, only 19% of the surveyed stated they had established one.

Developing a data literacy programme or a data upskilling programme for your organisation will help harness the power of data and face the changes it brings. In both cases, your goal is to make sure your people are comfortable enough when dealing with data: that is, to learn how to use the tools, but also change their way of thinking about data-driven decision making.

A data literacy programme is a good way to teach employees to think in a more data-driven way so they can implement changes successfully. It’s a set of skills that can be acquired through an education programme, applied in a work environment, or picked up on the job.

This kind of programme is a way for organisations to ensure their employees (the concept of digital citizenship) have the right skillset for the future of work — again, it’s more about understanding your business with your data than being an expert data scientist. Having a plan to improve data literacy among all employees is critical to achieving the business outcomes anticipated from digital transformation.

Working on data organisation reorganisation through the development and implementation of a data office or the “liberation” of data since it’s often siloed, has quality issues or is inaccessible. To implement data changes in an organisation, there are a few key steps that need to be taken.

  1. Create a data office that will own initiatives related to data, as data citizenship, data literacy, and data governance will require an important amount of work.
  2. Break down the data silos between departments so they can share data easily, which can be done in different ways with the help of data architects and data engineers.
  3. Implement changes based on your findings from this process with the help of a data manager and change manager.

Finally, to do so, you should always have a strong business case that is linked to your goal development and is included in your strategy or data roadmap. That’s because a business case will help you to:

  1. Have a controlled scope as data-related transformation projects can quickly become important (which is a classic trap in the development and implementation of data technologies, such as data mesh, data lakehouse, master data management, among others).
  2. Obtain quick wins that will help you maintain stakeholders approval and sponsorship — which is crucial as data-related transformation projects are often complex and long.
Conclusion

In the near future, no digital transformation will be implemented without a stream dedicated to data transformation. These two transformations will become more and more interdependent. The challenge is to identify and overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities that data brings the changes that data brings such as data democratisation, data citizenship, data literacy, or data architecture, which lead to new organisational and cultural changes.This journey will unlock better decision-making, more knowledge, and more efficiency as long as you keep a clear vision, goals and business cases.

Since the first industrial revolution, humans have been progressing at a faster and faster pace. We are now on the new pathway to optimisation and automation thanks to data and artificial intelligence. This will lead us to many new opportunities and challenges. Digital revolution is fundamentally about scaling. Data transformation is about optimisation. Artificial intelligence will be about automation. Let’s get ready for these challenges by developing a better data culture with the help of data literacy.

Source: PwC Luxembourg