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In 2021 alone, companies are expected to invest more than $215 billion into data, a 10-percent rise year on year. Yet BCG Research has found that seven out of 10 companies fall short of their goals in digital transformation efforts, while a 2020 NewVantage Partners survey found that less than 30 percent of businesses believe they have an effective data culture. On top of all that, by different estimates, between 52 and 80 percent of data collected by companies is not used for anything productive.
At the same time, companies should be alarmed over the issue of data literacy among employees. According to a 2020 survey, only 21 percent of employees are confident in their data comprehension abilities. Given that high data literacy among employees has been correlated with better performance for the business, it means most companies are simply not living up to their full potential.
Fostering a data culture
Businesses have a lot to win from investing in data literacy initiatives for their employees. This is not to say that everyone must become a data scientist, but statistics 101 along with some data compliance basics could go a long way in setting the company up for success.
Just as there’s currently a month devoted to raising cybersecurity awareness, we need a data literacy month. Ideally, what we need to aim for is not just one month, but a comprehensive educational push across all industries that could benefit from data-driven decision-making. But the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and an awareness month would serve as a perfect springboard. When planning such initiatives, we must make sure they do not descend into another boring PowerPoint presentation. Instead, we need to clearly demonstrate how data can help employees with the tasks they perform every day.
Tailoring the training sessions to the needs of individual teams or departments, businesses must first and foremost think of situations specific employees find themselves in on a regular basis. Take a content marketing or demand generation team, for example: A simple comparison of the conversion rates on several landing pages, which they most likely work on frequently, is a good way to not just figure out the optimal language and layout, but also to introduce such statistical concepts as population, sample, and P-value. The same would go for a cold sales team and lessons on A/B testing their sales scripts, while a crew of store managers would likely be able to appreciate a training session on timeline analysis basics that will reveal patterns in seasonal purchases.
Such training should begin with tailored instructor-led sessions designed to stimulate initial interest and arm employees with the basic statistical comprehension tools. From there, the company can choose from a variety of options, from providing access to self-paced online courses (ideally, with interactive tasks) to cross-department brainstorming and training courses aimed to foster interplay between different teams.
Besides addressing a major flaw holding companies back, such measures would go a long way to enabling a larger transformation into a data-driven business. It would help change the overall company mindset when it comes to data — a feat that will pay off in dozens of subtle and not always visible ways on several levels. Leaders building the data strategy will have an easier time having middle management buy into the endeavor. Rank-and-file employees, for their part, will have an easier time bringing the strategy to fruition by approaching it with full competence and understanding. In some cases, data literacy will likely enable bottom-up innovation, as workers handling the routine may be able to come at business questions that are invisible from the bird’s-eye view of a strategist. The same would go, on a larger scale, for regional and local hubs of a multinational corporation, with ample space for exchanging the best ideas and practices among all units.
Crucially, this could also help companies tackle their dark data problem. With proper data hygiene training in place, employees will pay more attention to making sure only useful and necessary data gets stored, and only in proper ways. This way, they will be able to naturally reduce dark data accumulation, while also making more use of accumulated unanalyzed data. All of the above will ultimately bolster the company’s performance and optimize its decision-making, driving up revenues. After all, enterprises with high data literacy have already been found to boast values that are $320-$534 million higher than those of their rivals and to enjoy higher revenue growth over time.
For me personally, data has always been a key instrument for all of my day-to-day tasks. In one of my previous gigs, I was in charge of most of the company’s revenue channels, with advertisers bidding in real-time for ad spaces on websites powered by our platforms. We got hourly comparisons of revenues from different advertisers. Without good data workflows, it was obviously impossible to get things right, and we needed not just good data, but also a good understanding of what to do with it. I started hosting small data crunching sessions for co-workers who felt they were falling behind, where we played around with various bootstrapped data sets, and soon enough, we built the workflows that amped up the company’s revenues by 10%.
There is another virtue in embracing the data literacy push: In today’s highly-competitive market, any skills and knowledge an employee brings to the table work as a competitive advantage. By fostering data literacy in the workforce, companies empower their employees to do better and give them skills that are set to remain valuable for years ahead.
Looking into the future, companies that embrace data transformation will be the ones to come out on top in their respective industries. And businesses that start their education efforts early will likely be the fastest to reap the fruits of their investment.
Idan Shchori is Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer at Metrolink.ai, an Israeli data-management omniplatform. He previously worked as VP for Business Operations at EX.CO (ex-Playbuzz) and Head of Sales at WebPick Internet Holdings Ltd.