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Why the best employees need to be data literate


In any organization, there are 3 types of decision makers – empiricists who rely 100% on what the data is telling them, intuitives who run wholly on instinct), and skeptics who strive for a healthy balance of analysis and judgement.

Using data effectively is not a challenge for the IT department alone. It is also a challenge for the decision makers. Everyone would agree that operating solely on instinct is not good for business. But it turns out that operating solely on the data isn’t good for you either. Your decision makers need a good balance between the analysis and their judgement, but in order to have that balance, they first need to truly understand what the data is telling them. 

The right tools are essential. Improved information filtering and visualization tools help break down barriers to understanding that are preventing your decision makers from using your organization’s data effectively. It’s one thing to pull up a spreadsheet that tells you revenues are up this quarter with half the earnings coming from the east coast.  It’s something else altogether to determine if the east coast’s success is the result of a particularly talented sales team. Or maybe it’s a unique mix of product offerings coupled with some savvy deal making with suppliers and some profitable cross-selling opportunities made possible because the decision makers were 100% plugged in to the data.

It helps to remember that data alone is not terribly useful. The human element is an essential part of any data implementation. If your people are adept at understanding, interpreting, and asking the right questions of the data, the data itself becomes much more valuable and starts providing much greater returns.

So do you have a corporate culture that encourages and embraces true data literacy, or are your decision makers still trying to figure out this data thing the way the previous generation struggled to figure out that email thing by leaning heavily on the IT department every time they tried to log in?

The availability of data has absolutely exploded over the past decade. Where once data was limited to spreadsheets and finance departments, new ways of collecting data have brought every aspect of a business into the data-enabled world. But are you using your data everywhere you could be? If all your employees are pushed towards data literacy, deploying data to previously underinvested teams becomes a strategic move that will show enormous returns.

We are already reaching a point in time where most people are comfortable with at least a basic data literacy, but more is needed. It’s not enough to be able to read the data. When you come right down to it, you need not only to be able to read what the predefined data system gives you, but as you begin to ask new questions, you need to create new reports and dashboards on the fly to answer those questions in a timely manner – without needing to get the IT team involved. The day is coming when every employee will be able to use corporate data for ad hoc reporting the same way every employee uses email today.

So how can you build a culture of data literacy into your organization? It starts by giving everyone access to data. With a tool like simpleBI, you can give your employees access to preformatted reports and dashboards that answer the questions they’ve identified as being important while at the same time empowering your more data literate people by giving them the ability to create ad hoc reports and dashboards on the fly.

If you choose your power users wisely, they will become your champions for change, teaching others and advocating for a more data literate standard across the organization, regardless of job roles and responsibilities. And because simpleBI is so flexible, as your beginners start to better understand the data and how to work with it, you can open up their access so they can become ad hoc users, too.

Building data literacy skills into your corporate training and your personnel evaluations is another key step towards having a data-literate workforce. When your users can see a clear path towards data mastery and a solid return on their personal investment in data literacy, they’re more likely to grow their skills. And when data literate people are handed the world-class Cognos Business Intelligence tools to play with without requiring an expensive and resource-intensive implementation process, the sky is the limit.