‘Data is the new gold’ - but can every employee use it?

Published 01 Jul 2021

By Maggie Chan



The new ‘gold rush’ towards a data-driven culture that promotes capitalising leading-edge insights from data has become ever prominent by organisations seeking to gain a competitive advantage in the dynamic business environment. With this, reveals an emerging need for employees across the organisation, not just in data science teams, to be data literate.

‘Data is the new gold’ - but can every employee use it?

Data literacy has become important, for almost everyone. Companies need more people with the ability to interpret data, to draw insights, and to ask the right questions in the first place. (Harvard Business Review)

What is data literacy?

According to the MIT Sloan School of Management, data literacy is the ability of a company’s employees to understand and work with data to the appropriate degree.

So what does this actually mean? Being a data literate employee may entail having the ability to read, understand, work with and analyse data. Given that employees within an organisation are often exposed to data in different ways, and to different extents, it is important to realise that there may be a difference in the desired data literacy level between roles.

How can ALL employees use the new ‘gold’ as their currency?

The benefits associated with acquiring a certain level of data literacy is not only beneficial for employees working directly with data, but also to employees across the organisation.

So why should employees who don’t work directly with data be data literate? Well, the skills acquired from being data literate can help both the organisation and its employees. Having the skillset to derive informed and data-driven decision making has been reported to correlate to higher productivity levels (Harvard Business Review 2020). Simultaneously, employees also experience a sense of satisfaction and empowerment from their contribution.

“Even if you yourself don’t work directly with data, having this form of literacy will allow you to ask the right questions and be part of the conversation at work.” (Harvard Business Review)

Also, the trend of data visualisation software such as Tableau has helped organisations make company data visible to all employees, as opposed to the ‘traditional’ methods of restricting it to managers and executives. Such transitions have helped support more informed decision making based on insights gathered from data analytics. While data visualisation reports and dashboards are often deemed to be ‘simple’ enough ‘for anyone’ to understand, having data literate employees can be one of the most effective ways to derive accurate insights.

Equipping employees with the correct data skills can help enable them to:

  • Understand the context of the situation: Understanding how the data is relevant to their scope of work

  • Problem solve: Ask and seek the right questions from more specialist individuals or teams

  • Derive insights: Understand the data being presented and create business value through their gained knowledge and data-driven decision making

So what can organisations do?

  • Internal learning modules: Online or in-person data literacy sessions held by data science teams and open to the entire organisation.

  • Facilitate internal guilds or clubs: Facilitating internally run guilds where employees share data-related knowledge can help leverage the existing wealth of knowledge that already exists within the organisation to others. Moreover, it instills a positive corporate culture of continuous learning that benefits both the organisation and employee satisfaction.

  • And many many more!

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Tags: data visualisation data literacy