To address the data skills gap, businesses take inspiration from academia with training and certification
Digital transformation demands that businesses be data-driven, so organisations are making major investments – an average of $15.3 million (£11.3 million) this year – to ensure success. While some of these investments are directed towards technology and systems architecture, nearly half the 15.3 million (41%) is being allocated to skill development. This comes as no surprise, as more people have greater access to data than ever before, but are unable to "speak the language" of data. Workers with fundamental data literacy have the agency to understand and apply – to “translate” – the data they are increasingly exposed to, and are empowered to answer business questions and add greater value to their companies. Companies are solving this barrier to growth by cultivating analytics capabilities outside of data scientist roles, launching data literacy efforts to address the analytics skills gap. Gartner rates poor data literacy as one of the top barriers to creating a data-driven culture and experiencing its advantages.
By 2020, 80% of organisations will initiate deliberate competency development in the field of data literacy to overcome extreme deficiencies.
While data literacy investments may be new to businesses, academic institutions have been developing critical-thinking and analytics proficiencies in students for years, as a requirement for decision-making and problem-solving in personal and professional environments. Institutions like the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Edinburgh, among others, are producing the next generation of digital natives by offering data skills programmes and curricula for both undergraduate and graduate students across disciplines, producing a generation of data natives. The University of South Florida Muma College of Business has established a Citizen Data Scientist certificate programme, educating students who lack the technical expertise to collect and analyse data for business decision-making. With this data literacy, students are equipped with the analytics skills and literacy to navigate digital-first work environments.
Corporations are taking a leaf out of academia’s book by either establishing their own data skills programmes, centres of excellence and communities, or seeking out training with third-party data literacy programmes and external communities. We are seeing enterprises subsidise analytics certifications as well, as they begin to measure data literacy development. These investments also serve to level up the analytics skills of an existing workforce that lacks data literacy with those of incoming data natives.
Making data literacy a pillar of their digital transformation, Lockheed Martin launched formal data literacy workshops and courses to engage and educate employees across US campuses, with plans to expand in 2020. The global security and aerospace company hopes to roll out this training to people working in manufacturing and other non-traditional analysts roles. As a result, the Enterprise Analytics team has observed shifts in how employees treat data with respect to their roles and the added value they bring when they are data literate. Anthony Brown, Enterprise Analytics Leader at Lockheed Martin commented, “One thing we see [that] is important for basic data literacy is really understanding where your data is used and how it's used and why it's important. [...] But when they do understand that, they're going to care more about the data that they put in there, and that helps with data quality and data accuracy as well.” To manage and scale this investment in data literacy to over 100,000 employees, which is their goal, Anthony and his team are looking at their internal tool, Eureka. This Twitter-like platform has allowed people to establish a community, ask questions, post answers and provide each other support to improve the organization’s data visualisations and reporting.
Marina Brazhnikova, BI Manager of Data Visualization, has seen the explosive demand for analytics across her organisation, a large non-profit, academic healthcare system in the southern USA. To meet the current analytics needs of this data-driven environment – and to continue scaling as it grows – her team has focused on hiring and training staff to be data literate in order to deliver what clients, and the business, require. Marina’s team has grown from two developers to a team of 11. This increase in data literacy has created more engaged, empowered employees and improved operational efficiency overall.
We have seen a considerable culture shift in our organisation, as people become more skilled and, therefore, more excited about using data. As we give them the ability to blend various data sources and a greater speed of delivery, they are empowered to make new discoveries and make educated data-driven decisions.
This workforce of critical thinkers at Lockheed Martin, and other companies developing data literacy programmes, are empowered to solve business challenges with data, adding greater value to their organisations. Moving from an academic testing ground to the corporate space, data literacy is serving as “a core enabler of digital business – alongside people, processes and technologies”, according to Gartner. When organisations invest in formal training, communities to foster continued learning and certifications to measure data literacy, people can thrive with data and make a greater impact on the business – better prepared to be agile as digital transformation demands data literacy at all levels.