We are experiencing the fourth industrial revolution (or “Industry 4.0”), a revolution defined by wave after wave of new technologies combining the physical and digital worlds. You’ve no doubt noticed the plethora of “smart” physical devices — everything from watches to speakers to refrigerators — that are now connected to the Internet. That’s Industry 4.0 in action. And it’s all backed up by data. Data is the fuel driving this new era of constant technological breakthroughs.
As such, data is now a valued business asset. This means that data literacy – the basic ability to understand and use data – is an essential workplace skill for people in all kinds of roles. In other words, organizations, large and small, need data-literate individuals who can work with data confidently.
In an average business context, data literacy generally means the following:
· Access the right data – such as in, knowing how and where to access the data you need to do your job and make informed decisions.
· Working with data – including creating data, collecting data, managing data to keep it up to date and of course keeping data safe.
· Find meaning in the numbers – I’m not talking about being an expert data scientist. Instead, it’s about understanding what the data is telling you, usually by using business analytics tools to extract insights from the data and identify business opportunities.
· Communicate those insights to others in the company – to turn insights into action, you need to be able to convey key messages from the data to decision-makers within the company.
An Accenture study highlights the stark realities of data literacy in the business world; while 75 percent of C-suite execs believe that all or most of their employees have the ability to work with data proficiently, only 21 percent of employees (in various roles) were really confident in their data literacy. It’s clear that something isn’t right here.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can improve your data literacy as an individual. Here are eight steps to get you started:
1. First, if your employer doesn’t have a data literacy training program (and every company should these days), encourage them to create one. This article about why data literacy is important for every business helps you make a compelling case for organization-wide data literacy training.
2. If organizational training isn’t an option, there are also many online courses that will help you navigate data – from basic data skills to advanced machine learning skills. A good starting point is to check out education platforms like Coursera and Udemy, as well as the excellent learning resources from the Data Literacy Project. You will also find specific data literacy courses for different sectors, such as healthcare (for example, Coursera has a data literacy course in healthcare).
3. I also recommend taking a basic statistics course as it helps you understand the fundamentals of data and analytics, and a basic data visualization course as it helps you communicate insights from data to others in the business.
4. Meanwhile, familiarize yourself with the use of data by diving into your company’s datasets (using the management dashboards or business intelligence tools your company has). Just dive in and try it, for example by fetching different reports for different time periods. And if you don’t have access to data in your role, ask for it.
5. Find a data mentor. This doesn’t have to be a data professional (but if you can make friends with a data scientist within your organization, go for it!) in their decision making. Someone who bases his actions on solid information, not just gut feelings.
6. If you’re wary of data or just “not a numbers person,” try focusing on the benefits of using data in your job. For example, data can help you understand your audience, spot market gaps, make better decisions, back up your presentations with hard facts, and impress your bosses.
7. Blindly tracking data is never a good idea, so learn to question the data you’re working with. Good questions to ask are, “Where does this data come from?” “Is this data valid?” and “Is the data biased?” There are many fascinating – and downright alarming – examples of bias in data and artificial intelligence, and I recommend reading up on the topic. This will help you question your company’s data and ensure decisions are made based on data that is accurate and fair.
8. Finally, don’t let fear or hesitation around data stop you from becoming data literate. I understand that data makes a lot of people nervous, but data literacy will be one of the most valuable skills in the workplaces of the future, and burying your head in the sand won’t change that. So find a way to allay the fear of data and treat it as a normal part of your working life. Some people like to do this by reading whatever they can get their hands on until the subject is normalized. Others prefer to just dive in and learn along the way. Most importantly, don’t let fear or hesitation hold you back. It’s just data!
Learn more about data literacy and other essential skills in my new book, Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World. Written for anyone who wants to ride the wave of digital transformation – rather than drown in it – the book explores why these vital future skills matter and how to develop them.