Investing in leadership skills as well as data skills allows organizations can ensure that they can have decisive marketplace and intra-organizational impacts. The Chief Data Officer (CDO) role is only a few years old, and many organizations still don’t have a CDO. Data Literacy is an essential component to all of this.
In a recent DATAVERSITY® interview with Asha Saxena, a technology expert turned business leader, she spoke about recent Data Literacy trends, the importance of Data Literacy, and the lack of understanding of the real value of “data.” She said that even with millions of dollars invested in technology infrastructure, Data Science teams continue to work in isolation — far removed from the daily business issues.
Saxena strongly feels that business data, though a strategic asset, fails to make an impact because enterprises do not have the necessary environment for developing the data skills of employees:
“So, I personally have the experience of being both on the side of being frustrated with technology, being frustrated with not having the right data, and working with my clients, and seeing how business leaders do get frustrated and don’t trust the data because it doesn’t seem right.”
Saxena is a successful tech entrepreneur whose career evolved from being a programmer and database engineer to a business owner and thought leader. She has experienced both sides of the data ecosystem — first as a data engineer, then as a data consumer. She stresses the value of Data Literacy in all her work.
Saxena reaffirmed that modern businesses need to understand the value that data brings to the customers or consumers, and this understanding will automatically grow and develop if Data Literacy programs are in place. “Data has become really critical, more than ever now, because of the application and how the technology has evolved,” she remarked. “We’re at the right time — especially as the data leaders—to create the impact with data and influence innovation within our businesses.”
Data Literacy Makes Better Data Consumers
Organizations can invest in a large infrastructure, build complex data environments, invest millions of dollars to create sophisticated technology. But, Saxena said, if they are not investing in creating better Data Literacy, a strong data culture within their organizations, then they won’t get their desired results.
Data Literacy, in her definition, allows businesses to learn from data and evolve. Once the business staff is trained to learn from data, they will become better data consumers and make best use of the data-driven learning. In other words, they will apply the data-driven lessons to reinvent their business models.
She used the example of a pharmaceutical company that was trying to understand how to better work with doctors and educate them on the value of their medicines. “I worked with a pharmaceutical company and their reps traditionally just went to a physician’s office with donuts to serve during meetings,” she said. They wanted to know if that was an effective means to work with doctors or if conferences were better, or what was best? But they didn’t have good data around those data elements. They didn’t understand how to properly collect the data, how to analyze it, or really the importance of the data they did collect.” They lacked good Data Literacy.
In a typical business scenario she said:
“Organizations have so much data, but they don’t understand the consumption and application because of the gap in Data Literacy. If the data does not teach to innovate, then what good is that data?”
Data Literacy Drives the Data-Drive Culture of an Organization
The “data-driven culture” of an enterprise indicates to what extent the entire organization understands the value that data brings to their business. Saxena explained:
“The data-driven culture is all about learning what the data is telling you, and changing your tactics. The organizations who are focused and educated and understand how to look at the data to create important pivots in the business are the ones who are actually selling.”
She cited the example of Netflix, an early adopter of data-driven culture. Because Netflix listened to data from the very beginning, they were bold enough to reinvent themselves several times throughout their entrepreneurial journey. “Netflix came and broke the traditional Blockbuster business model,” she remarked.
They initially started their business believing people would prefer mail order videos versus going to a store. Then they broke their own model and instead of just renting a DVD, they moved to streaming. Then they switched again in the streaming space and decided to give customers a whole series instead of playing one episode at a time. “They continue breaking their own model,” Saxena said. And it has worked well for them, they are still the top streaming service in a complex industry.”
Her main point here she said, is that organizations that depend too much on their proven tactics, fail to innovate when those tactics stop working. Data Literacy can help create a data-driven culture so that all employees begin to learn from data, and make changes to their business tactics or strategy and reinvent their business model.
The Business Benefits of Data Literacy
According to Saxena, the primary benefits of Data Literacy are:
- Reducing communication gaps between the technology teams and business teams
- Improving collaboration between technical and non-technical staff in solving common business problems
- Creating value in business services
She cited the examples of Domino’s and Starbucks, whose “passion to evolve” inspired them to listen to data and derive immense benefits from data-driven insights. They evolved in different ways, but each used new innovation and insights in app development, online ordering, customer tastes, etc., to be more successful through the proper usage of data. “It’s having that passion to evolve. And if an organization has a passion, they cannot do it in a silo. They need data.”
The Top Data Literacy Trends in 2022
The top Data Literacy trends and corresponding challenges in 2022, according to Saxena, are around data-driven culture as discussed above, the move to entirely digital workspaces, personalization, AI, training, and collaboration.
Data Literacy Trend 1: Growth of Data-driven Culture and Data Literacy Programs
This is natural outcome of successful Data Literacy programs and has been discussed throughout this article. She said that as these types of programs continue to grow in 2022 and beyond, more data-driven cultures will emerge across organizations. The business staff will not only become better data consumers, but also more aware of the value of data applications.
Saxena reiterated that as these platforms and structures get more advanced and implemented across more organizations, it will get easier to build these programs. More coaching is becoming available, through thought leaders like herself and others. “These are creating co-working spaces, where the stakeholders are coming together. I see business and technology leaders collaborating a lot more to make sure more training, building, and literacy happen enterprise-wide.” She said it’s certainly not happening at all levels yet, or in all organizations, but it is becoming more common.
Trend 2: The Move to Digital (and the Cloud)
Saxena mentioned that most Data Literacy platforms are still in early stages.
“I think we are still in the very young infancy stage of Data Literacy right now. I see organizations building platforms to create Data Literacy. They are creating portraits, data repositories for data sharing, things like metadata libraries, and training programs.”
She also said that the COVID pandemic has pushed these types of programs, and the overall growth of digital workspaces, even further. It caused everything to go virtual. “The fact that we are having so many cloud migrations is helping business and technology to collaborate more than ever.” This digital trend is around collaboration and building digital tools to assist those collaborations, along with a huge growth in cloud technologies for organizations of all sizes and levels of development.
Trend 3: Personalization in Consumerism
She elaborated on this trend by saying that the big data environment — how businesses are collecting and focusing on personalization — is growing faster all the time. “The whole personalization movement is creating the Data Literacy automatically,” she said. Because now organizations are really thinking about how they can adapt themselves to address the commercialization and personalization. She gave examples from L’Oreal and Estee Lauder.
“They provide makeup for individuals, and base many of their decisions upon the color and different ways you can find the shades in different clothing lines. They’ve innovated with consumers by allowing for customization of makeup with those consumers’ preferred clothing styles. It also changes the way people dress. This kind of a trend that automatically fosters Data Literacy, both on an organizational and personal level. Everyone is getting more literate. And those companies who adapt will do best in the future.”
Trend 4: AI Empowerment and Collaboration
She explained this trend by saying that the latest technology companies who are coming into the marketplace are forcing other organizations to adapt and change. “I think the whole AI trend is forcing everyone to change.”
She discussed a Builders Summit she attended. There was an agricultural company that had started using AI and advanced data collection practices to assist farmers in better using technology in their fields. “I think that’s all about collaboration, and using the latest technology, so I think the whole AI trend is going to make Data Literacy more easy for organization to focus on how they can outperform their competition.” As long as they innovate and use the technologies correctly.
But there are still conflicts that will happen between business and technology units, she said. “I don’t know if that can ever go away within the organization.”
Regardless of which industry, technology and the business speak two different languages, and for them to come together becomes harder and harder the more advanced the technology becomes. “But I do see that there are pockets within each organization,” Saxena remarked. “Especially large organizations where the effort is being made to create this Data Literacy and through that collaboration.”
She also sees that the growth of data scientists throughout many industries is helping foster both technological advancement (and thus AI empowerment) and further collaboration.
“The whole trend of data scientists coming into the picture has also helped organizations about how they structure their organization, from the center of excellence to data scientists who are available and working closely with the business to understand the business problem.”
She stressed that this is the right time in the history of global businesses to begin a real data-driven journey inspired by Data Literacy programs.
“The biggest challenge for CDO is Data Literacy and adoption. I am the CEO of a company that focuses on women business leaders in data, AI, and technology organizations. We work with allied male leaders, and other thought leaders across industries.”
She said she spoke with data leaders every day last year and the biggest issue they are facing is adoption. They build applications, they innovate with new technologies, they invest in training and development. But she said she always gets the question: “Why are they not using it?” And the answer is because they don’t know the value. Because they are not data literate.
She reiterated as the interview closed that Data Literacy needs to start from the top down. Business leaders need to make the investment and push new innovations no matter what industry they are in. Saxena said,
“It’s about understanding if there is a need for pivoting. And is there a need for me to consciously break my model to provide more value to my customers; it’s about hiring people who care about doing good and challenging themselves to be better.”
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