As the world of big data gets bigger, it’s never been more important for business leaders to have a fundamental understanding of how it works and how to use it to their commercial advantage. Yet still, the data literacy gap remains as wide as ever, largely starting from the top down. Here, Natalie Cramp, CEO of Profusion, advises why this must change and why data could be your business’ biggest underutilised asset.
As people have come to conduct more of their business and personal lives online than ever before, the world’s data volume has become almost unimaginably big. During last year it was estimated that there were 333.2 billion emails and 650 million Tweets sent every day.1 It’s also estimated that by 2025, 200+ zettabytes (one zettabyte is approximately equal to a trillion gigabytes!) of data will be in cloud storage around the globe.1
This constant creation of data presents opportunities for businesses to become more data driven than ever before, and grow by making better decisions.
Done well, the analytical power of big data can help achieve better predictability, equipping businesses with increased forecast accuracy so they can plan and take action accordingly.
It can help companies pinpoint exactly what their customers are looking for and create tailored, hyper-personalised experiences designed to increase brand loyalty. It can also help companies more easily identify upsell opportunities, leverage emerging trends and distinguish what new product updates would fit their customer base.
The list goes on, but the significance is clear – data is an essential tool that any business should have in the armoury when priming for growth. This is echoed in a recent Forrester study which states, “Data skills have risen in importance over the past five years and the trend isn’t likely to stop anytime soon.”2
It is, perhaps, surprising then that the data literacy gap remains one of the most pressing obstacles in achieving the wider data-driven mandate.
Mind the Gap
At Profusion we previously conducted our own research3 with business leaders which revealed that, on average, CEOs tend to have the least understanding of data and statistical concepts compared to their leadership team and managers. This was in tune with a pretty poor standard level of data education found among most senior professionals.
The impact of this top-heavy data literacy gap cannot be underestimated. While once only required for employees within data analytics and business intelligence teams, the ability to interpret data is now a common and essential task in every business remit and ranking.
Today, whether it’s an employee working in finance, HR, product development or marketing, more than ever, the ability to understand data, interpret it and use those insights to make collective, informed and overall better decisions is increasingly aligned to success.
Of course, as business leaders seek to build resilience and secure growth amid what remains a turbulent economy, upskilling on data literacy may appear to be the least of their priorities.
However, it’s an investment worth making. As demonstrated by numerous studies across the globe, organisations that achieve data literacy reap significant rewards. According to research from the Data Literacy Project, enterprises with higher corporate data literacy scores can have $320-$534 million in higher enterprise value.4
This is indicative of our work at Profusion too. Working closely with clients to transform their data into actionable insights, we continue to add value – empowering senior teams to make better decisions, influencing successful new business developments, and even helping clients recruit the right talent aligned to wider organisational goals
But for us, it isn’t just about providing expertise but equipping our clients with the knowledge and tools to understand how data and artificial intelligence can help them to make better, more informed business decisions.
In this vein, our Data Academy offers a powerful upskilling programme which has been purposely designed for organisational leaders and managers. Through a combination of practical and theory-based learning delivered by our expert team, this short programme continues to empower individuals to become more informed and collaborate successfully with their data team to drive business value.
Data and Diversity
Alongside supporting greater data literacy, it’s also about enabling greater diversity in data. For far too long, data literacy has been confined to the stereotypical young, ‘tech savvy’ male, and the stats show that this remains largely unchanged.
This presents numerous issues. Firstly, upskilling more women in data, or better still attracting them into the sector in the early stages, will help to tackle the data skills gap. But even more important, curating a more diverse, richer talent pool is actually crucial to supporting the integrity of data itself – after all, the risk of inherent bias is much greater if those responsible for handling, processing and analysing it are of a similar makeup.
Tech founders, especially female ones, can help break this cycle by teaching the tech or data required across the board, while addressing stereotypes and providing work inspiration and experience opportunities for all.
As the world’s data grows, the good news is that it brings with it even bigger opportunities for businesses to harness the visibility and insights gained to work better, smarter and faster.
But the reality is its impact will be severely limited if only a handful of people in the business are able to understand and interpret that data. After all, it’s impossible to know what you don’t know – and a second hand account of somebody else’s understanding, no matter how advanced it may be, could never substitute for your own personal analysis.
Therefore, as we look to the future it’s imperative that business leaders take the time to swot up on their data skills as a key business priority, while also ensuring a holistic training and upskilling approach across the board. Indeed, it may require investment and time off the task in hand, but it will certainly pay back dividends in the long-run.
Natalie is a data and startup operations expert. She has more than a decade of experience leading private, public and third sector organisations through significant periods of innovation and change. This includes creating and scaling tech solutions for government organisations and developing the digital capability of third sector organisations.
Currently, Natalie is the CEO of data science company Profusion. At Profusion she leads a team of consultants, data scientists, data architects, developers and digital marketing experts. She is responsible for Profusion’s strategic direction, expansion of its product offering and the growth of its blue-chip client base.
3 Profusion data literacy research amongst 300 senior professionals, August 2021