Can Bridging Data Literacy Gaps Create Better Analytics Outcomes?


Every department, from marketing to HR to product to IT, requires the heavily use of data for day-to-day tasks. As such, employees will need far more data training than what most organizations are doing right now.

Here at RTInsights, we write and talk about all the fantastic innovations happening in real-time streaming and analytics. We often focus solely on the technical side of things—new companies, new databases, and new methodologies that excite us and open up new opportunities for organizations. But what about the employees who are supposed to be using all of these new-fangled—and highly complex—tools? Do they have the skills and culture required to succeed in a data-rich, technology-hungry organization? Is there a data literacy gap?

Those questions are part of what a survey from Tableau and Forrester Consulting aims to answer, which found two alarming gaps in how large organizations think about and work toward the future of “data literacy.”

  • Decision-makers think they’re doing better with data-related training than they actually are.
  • Decision-makers argue that their organization’s lack of data skills equates directly to negative outcomes, like making fast and accurate business decisions or ramping up the pace of innovation, but also think employees should train themselves on the more specialist data awareness that unlocks this potential.

The study found that 82% of leaders expect their employees to have basic data literacy skills, which the study defines as what’s required to “understand, explore, use, make decisions with, and communicate using data.” While that might sound reasonable, only 40% of employee respondents (the survey was split 50-50 between directors and employees with 3+ years of experience) said they’re actively getting on-the-job training for the very same data skills.

See also: Skill-Based Hiring Could Address Technical Staffing Shortages

That’s a dangerous gap in assumption versus reality—and it’s only going to get more severe in the years to come. The study found that the need for basic data skills experienced the biggest demand jump in the last three years—more than project management, communications, or computer skills—and advanced data skills are now forecast to be the most highly-sought in the next three years.

Every department, from marketing to HR to product to IT, requires basic data skills, and the survey shows that by 2025, nearly 70% of employees will likely use data heavily in their day-to-day tasks.

This increase in demand necessitates far more data training than what most organizations are doing right now, which is another area the survey covered. 47% of organizations cited in the survey offer structured training for basic data skills, and a mere 33% do the same for the more advanced skills that will soon be in high demand. Skills in using data visualization tools or statistical data tools are most common. Still, only 27% of employees said they’ve received training on the “basic ability to read data outputs relevant to my role.” In the majority of organizations, data training is given to those in traditional data roles, not the general workforce.

Enter the second disconnect—generally speaking, decision-makers think employees should take the reins to train themselves on data. It doesn’t match the expectations they’re putting on employees and the perceived risk of not skilling up fast enough.

As a result, departments, teams, and individual employees are designing their own data skills curricula. The most common way they’re doing that is by shadowing co-workers who have more advanced skills through relevant data-related work. When department/team leaders try to run a new data training initiative, they lack support, mostly in terms of budget, from director-, VP-, or executive-level decision-makers.

So, the common refrain you might hear from technology leadership—that employees are unfairly resistant to becoming a more data-oriented organization—doesn’t show in Forrester’s data. The survey found that many employees hesitated to ask for more training or actively complained about the quality of existing training out of fear they might be retaliated against for lack of foundational skills. To put the onus on them for not speaking up more is equivalent to victim-blaming.

What can organizations do to build a data-friendly culture?

We talk about this exact problem in our new eBook, The RTInsights Guide to Streaming Analytics, which covers the technical and cultural challenges around adopting streaming analytics for the first time. It’s the only guide where you’ll learn about the pros and cons of going DIY, homegrown, and cloud and how easily your culture can eat your brand-new streaming strategy for breakfast in an instant.

Forrester argues that companywide skills training is the way to go—doubly so if it involves outside expertise from consultants, technology vendors, or data literacy experts. By coordinating from the top-down, with the requisite budget in place, organizations can spread general data skills while also helping each department contextualize new skills for their domain.

Ravi Mistry, Football Intelligence Manager for City Football Group, says, “What you want to do is help your people: to show them how technology, data, all these different elements can help them do their job better and help them almost fall in love with what they’re doing.”

Joel Hans

About Joel Hans

Joel Hans is a copywriter and technical content creator for open source, B2B, and SaaS companies at Commit Copy, bringing experience in infrastructure monitoring, time-series databases, blockchain, streaming analytics, and more. Find him on Twitter @joelhans.

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