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December 13, 2022updated 14 Dec 2022 9:44am

Majority of employees ‘not data literate’, report reveals

The majority of tech leaders surveyed for a report on data maturity said some members of their team lack basic skills in this crucial area.

By Ryan Morrison

Many employees at some of the largest companies in the country are not data literate, according to a new study. Hundreds of industry leaders from around the world were interviewed on the role of data within their organisations and 64% reported a lack of understanding among staff.

An understanding of the value of data should be spread throughout the workforce not just reserved for data teams, study shows (Photo: Kateryna Onyshchuk/Shutterstock)
An understanding of the value of data should be spread throughout the workforce not just reserved for data teams, study shows. (P Kateryna Onyshchuk/Shutterstock)

The report, entitled the Data Maturity Index and produced by Carruthers and Jackson, reveals the scale of data governance and literacy challenges faced by businesses. The consultancy spoke to chief data officers from a range of organisations including IBM, DFS and the British Heart Foundation over the past two months on the maturity of data within their businesses.

Data maturity is an important factor for companies seeking to derive value from information they collect, with a high maturity rating meaning the company has well-established processes and systems for collecting, storing, and analysing data that are integrated into overall operations.

Investing in improving data maturity can give companies a competitive advantage by enabling them to make more informed and effective decisions based on data and then capitalise on the opportunities it presents for growth and innovation, the report says.

It found that 64% of data leaders believe that most or almost all employees in their organisation are not data literate, presenting potentially the biggest barrier to data transformation.

The index covers four core areas of data use within an organisation; purpose, people, method, and tools.

A third of organisations have either unclear data roles and responsibilities, or no formalised data roles and responsibilities at all, the study revealed, which authors say is a problem as establishing data leadership roles is an essential part of improving data literacy within an organisation.

The immaturity of governance within organisations was also a problem identified by the study; 40% of organisations currently have little or no data governance framework in place.

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Data literacy and data governance lacking

“While it is worrying that so many organisations have little or no data governance framework, what really makes or breaks an organisation’s data strategy is the people using it every day,” said James Miller, product and strategy director at Carruthers and Jackson.

Having more data-literate employees allows the leadership to understand that data is not the preserve of specialist teams and so are more likely to invest in data transformation, he explained, adding that the problem is very few of the companies questioned have a high enough data maturity to reach that level. “This means that organisations are still struggling with driving data literacy and, in turn, building data culture more generally," Miller said.

While people are leading to more immature data levels for organisations, technology was helping them catch up. The index revealed that 63% of data leaders believe the technology available to the organisation “mostly helps” their use of data.

Inderpal Bhandari, global chief data officer at IBM, told the interviewers involved in the new Data Maturity Index that there are multiple issues in the field of data analytics that require data leaders to ensure teams are empowered to innovate.

“A data-driven culture and employee empowerment go hand-in-hand – while companies must provide the governance and tools to enable employees to act upon data, employees must be empowered to go ahead and make informed decisions,” Bhandari said.

“You not only need a data management system that allows employees to access the data, you also need to create a culture where employees can make decisions and not be afraid to make mistakes. Always start with the outcomes in mind – knowing what these are up-front and ensuring everyone is on the same page is key.”

Read more: Businesses not turning automation into business value

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