Making 2021 a Milestone Year in How You Work with Data

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Click to learn more about author Helena Schwenk.

In this blog post, I will share my thoughts on the tools and strategies we can all use to get the most out of data in the year ahead. Below are five areas you should focus on in 2021 to build skills, gain greater understanding, and empower the people you work with.

Data Democratization

Last year we witnessed countless collaborations in the scientific community aimed at tackling the COVID-19 crisis, built on data and knowledge alongside experience and expertise. Let this inspire you and your organization to put data democratization on the top of your list.

Much like the scientific community, I am willing to bet that there is a lot of untapped potential among your people. Are they all data experts? Probably not. But by giving them access to data and easy-to-use tools for asking questions of this data, you can bring out their collective wisdom and uncover insights to help your organization to make better, data-driven decisions.

This data democratization will certainly require the support of the right infrastructure and systems – in addition to effective Data Governance. For organizations that want to succeed in these challenging economic circumstances, the times of data silos, departmental thinking, and political in-fighting around data must come to an end. 

Image Source: Exasol

Data Literacy

To ensure successful data democratization and to extract the maximum value from your investment in data and analytics, Data Literacy is something you can no longer ignore. We wouldn’t let people drive cars without passing a test. So, let’s exercise some caution to ensure employees have the necessary training and understanding of data, analysis, and foundational statistical knowledge before reaching conclusions from their data.

Building Data Literacy in your organization will require resources and a structure for ongoing training and development. Upskilling your people and ensuring their knowledge is current should be at the top of your agenda to remain competitive. When it comes to data, this is critical if you want to use people’s analysis and insights as the basis for making business decisions.

Data Ethics

We often read and hear that artificial intelligence and machine learning will deliver great advances in automation and replace jobs in many industries. And while this is certainly a possibility, there are still humans behind the algorithms. And humans carry biases – we all do – so there’s a chance that biases are introduced into the algorithms we are exposed to on a daily basis.

It is important that each organization and the people within them, consider their own role when it comes to data ethics. Are numbers being made to look good through clever analysis, wording, or visualization? Is some data left out deliberately from analysis to avoid scrutiny? Data ethics starts with seemingly innocent, small situations and concerns all of us. I encourage you to start and increase the discussion around data ethics in your organization to ensure that you don’t end up in a much more difficult place from a moral standpoint later on. Acting now is better than waiting.

Data Culture

Implementing changes, driving new initiatives, and bringing greater access to data in every part of your business is much easier when you have a culture that values and understands data. This is particularly the case when looking to benefit your organization and deliver better outcomes and products to your customers, partners, and colleagues.

Building an effective data culture is a great goal to set yourself for 2021 and you can start with small, tangible steps and activities to get people involved and bought into the idea. If you already have data champions internally who can support you, you’ve achieved the first milestone. Empower these people to develop ideas for bringing people together around the topic of data and analytics. Let them conceive activities that everyone can get involved in and use them to help you build a data-literate workforce along the way.

Tackle Your Tool Stack

No discussion about data would be complete without technology. Many of you were able to use 2020 to assess the analytics and data tools in your organization in an effort to consolidate and innovate with limited resources. Finding smarter ways to work with data and identifying the most effective solutions will set you up for ongoing success and maximum return on your investment in analytics.

As you review the tools you currently have in-house, ask yourself and those using these solutions how effective they are in delivering results. Are they used for the right purpose, or are there more suitable alternatives? Don’t shy away from shaking old legacy foundations to see if they still deliver value and work closely with your vendors to ensure what they offer is what you want and need, as well as whether it works in harmony with the other tools in your stack.

Addressing these five topics isn’t trivial, but I promise you it will be a great way to make 2021 a year that mattered. Good luck!

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