Mind the skills gap between data and employees

Is your team lacking the confidence to get stuck in with data?
23 January 2020

A gap in employees’ ability to handle data is emerging fast. Source: Shutterstock

In an age powered by business intelligence, analytics tools and increasingly IoT, there is a clear need for global data literacy in the enterprise.

As companies pump funds into these kind of technologies on the path to a mythical digital transformation, a wealth of data is generated, but much of it remains unexplored and undervalued. 

A new report by Accenture and Qlik revealed companies are struggling to build teams that can elevate data to its true potential. 

The Human Impact of Data Literacy report found that while data is recognized as an invaluable asset, a gap between organizations’ aspirations to be more data-driven and employees’ ability to meet those needs is becoming apparent. 

According to the report, one of the core issues holding teams back is a lack of confidence: Despite 87 percent of employees recognizing the value of data, only 21 percent are confident in their data literacy skills, including understanding, questioning, and working with data. 

The availability of large data sets to drive better decision-making is counterproductive when employees are unable to understand or gain insights from it. This is the reality for 74 percent of employees that are unhappy or feeling overwhelmed when working with data, driving more than a third (36 percent) to circumvent it altogether. 

Data-focused organizations can set themselves apart from competitors, acquiring a powerful advantage in informed decision-making and product development, yet empowering staff with the necessary skills is a crucial hurdle to be overcome. 

“No one questions the value of data – but many companies need to re-invent their approach to data government, analysis, and decision-making,” said Sanjeev Vohra, Group Technology Officer and Global Lead for Accenture’s Data Business Group. 

“This means ensuring that their workforce has the tools and training necessary to deliver on the new opportunities that data presents.

“Data-driven companies that focus on continuous learning will be more productive and gain a competitive edge,” Vohra said.

To ensure data appreciation is translated into employee adoption, the report listed five steps organizations can take to instill a data-focused culture among employees. One of the methods is to create a culture of co-evolution, where the growth of employees is in parallel with the introduction and development of data. 

Data literacy training should not be regarded as a tick-box exercise; instead, it should be integrated into the training and onboarding process of an organization.

When data literacy becomes a compulsory component of all employees’ journeys in the workplace, companies can move forward with yielding the greatest value from available data.

In the end, data and its universal access is a powerful catalyst for organizations to accelerate their digital transformation. However, momentum requires employee buy-in and a strong seam of digital literacy throughout the organization is the missing layer for many. 

Handling data effectively isn’t just a challenge for an organization’s core workforce. Recent Europe-based research by Splunk revealed that while 53 percent C-levels face pressure to make business-critical decisions at least once a day, the pace at which they must do so is leading them to sideline data.

Instead, nearly half of business-critical decisions are made by “gut feel”– less than one percent of leaders said their decisions were always data-led.

As data volumes continue to swell, and acting on it becomes increasingly vital to remain competitive and attractive to customers, businesses must find ways to make it impactful and accessible to all members and departments within the organization in order to realize its true power.