Data literacy skills will become increasingly vital. Source: Shutterstock

How’s your data literacy? It’s becoming a vital skill

Whether you call it a résumé or a curriculum vitae, the average person’s vital workplace experience report generally details education, previous employment history, personal interests and a note on competencies in any foreign languages.

Now that we’ve been through the PC revolution of the 1980s and onward, many of us will also include a note on which software packages, platforms, and tools we have skills in.

If you know more than just Microsoft Office and you’re adept with Adobe InDesign or a similarly complex software tool, it’s usually worth mentioning.

Fast forward to the current post-millennial age… and people will soon (if they don’t already) use their résumés to make a note of their personal level of data literacy.

What is data literacy?

Not a huge leap away from human language literacy, data literacy is generally agreed to be the ability to read, work with, analyze and form intelligent arguments with data.

Most data-literate people (in 2020 at least) will be able to read data in a relatively raw form i.e. where it may exist in an unadulterated, unprepared, unpolished and unabstracted state. But this statement won’t endure for many years.

Going forward, the increasing use of abstraction tools will put diagrammatic representations of data in the hands of people who wouldn’t be able to fully digest the lower level raw streams of data that our databases may be gathering from machines, people and other databases.

A new job role

This growth of data as a business language has given rise to a new job title and role in the workplace. We already have Chief Data Officers (CDOs)… but now we’re also seeing firms create roles of Data Literacy Officers (DLOs) and other variants on the name.

Paul Maylon is head of data literacy at the credit score company Experian. Maylon says that it’s important for everyone in the workplace to see data literacy as a ‘life skill’, akin to a new language or perhaps learning an instrument.

Experian’s 2020 Global Data Management Research Report suggests that 84 percent of people surveyed see data literacy as a core competency that all employees need to have in the next five years.

To disseminate this skill inside modern enterprises, industry commentators agree that we’ll need to go back to basics with training and form a new approach to ‘data education.’

“CDOs and their teams need to appeal to a broad range of interests to help link the use of data at work to the use of data at home,” said Maylon.

“A good way of doing this could be leveraging tutorials that look at commonly used websites and apps and how data powers those services and decisions. For example, when looking to relocate, what data goes into the property website and how is it visualized to help drive that decision?”

Maylon and team point to the development of a data culture withing organizations they truly ‘get’ the need to get every employee talking the new language of data.

Starting with the CEO themself, everybody needs to start talking data for the business to develop a sense of data ownership. Only then will people understand good data (i.e. clean, verified, deduplicated, managed, secured etc) from badly ‘spoken’ data.

Say hello to DataOps

The longer-term effect of organizations learning to speak with data proficiency is that data itself becomes a more embedded part of the operational fabric of the business itself.

Enterprise technology firms see this reality closing in on us and some have started to buy into the notion of so-called DataOps.

Hitachi Vantara for one has already made a significant move in this space this year and acquired the business of privately held Waterline Data, Inc.

Waterline Data provides what it calls intelligent data cataloging solutions for DataOps that help customers to understand large datasets and comply with data regulations.

The company’s patented ‘fingerprinting’ technology uses AI- and rule-based systems to automate the discovery, classification and analysis of distributed (and diverse) data to tag large volumes of data based on common characteristics.

“Our research illustrates that almost half of enterprise data practitioners are spending more than 50 percent of their time simply trying to find and prepare data. Data catalog products have emerged in recent years as strategic imperatives for enterprises seeking to address this challenge,” said Matt Aslett, Research Vice President, 451 Research.

A new company handbook

Data literacy is on the rise and organizations in every vertical are starting to raise new discussion threads (that often originate from the Human Resources department) designed to get everybody thinking about how they’re going to talk data in the future.

Ultimately, along with directions to the staff canteen a note of when the annual Christmas party is, firms will start to develop a chapter on data parlance within their company handbooks.

Data is an inherent part of contemporary business, make sure you know how to pronounce it right.