#38 Data literacy for all is a myth

Data literacy is here understood as the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied, and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value.


According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), 50% of organisations will still lack the data literacy and AI skills to achieve business value. It doesn’t matter how much data your organisation collects; it isn’t beneficial until it gets put to work for your organisation. Data must be analysed to get actionable insights before it provides business value. According to a Gartner Annual Chief Data Officer (CDO) Survey, poor data literacy is one of the main roadblocks to the CDO’s success and a company’s ability to grow.


Skillset of the 21st century


Data literacy is to the 21st century what literacy was in the past century. It will propel forward momentum and success. It’s essential for everyone in an organisation to understand why it’s important to improve data literacy. Employees should be able to use data to influence their day-to-day activities as well as big-picture decisions.


Data processing in the hands of just couple of people is not going to offer the needed speed in data utilization to match business needs. Thus data literacy is for all. Yet, there are varying colors of grey eg depth in skills.

If used the right way, it can help every employee achieve their objectives, perform their job better and contribute to overall company performance. And, when you give everyone access to the data, it can make your operations more streamlined and efficient since those who know their business won’t have to wait for data scientists to interpret the data for them.


But I would not say that data literacy is now a must for all in your company. Or even if some minimal level of data literacy would be considered as a must have skill learned already in school, there will be big differences in skill levels.


in optimal situation you will have 80% of your staff adequately skilled in data literacy to match business needs.

Minimum Viable Data Literacy bar

Not all your staff will have same set of skills regarding data literacy. Some people will have deeper and/or wider set of skills than others. Reason might be as simple as that some people are just more interested about the topic.


In the above drawing I'm suggesting that in optimal situation you will have 80% of your staff adequately skilled in data literacy. They are the work horse regarding data driven value creation. They all pass the Minimum Viable Data Literacy bar.


The level of Minimum Viable Data Literacy bar is set by the requirements of your business. If your business is or will be data intensive, your Minimum Viable Data Literacy bar is higher than is some other company focused less on data. If you aim to servitize and / or productize data for sales, I would say that your company is somewhat data intensive.


The level of Minimum Viable Data Literacy bar is set by the requirements of your business.

Getting all your staff above the bar at all times might not be economically viable. Aiming for 100% coverage in anything is pretty much always not a good idea. The closer you get to 100% the harder it often gets. Thus perhaps you should accept that your organisation will always have some laggards which you of course try to lure "up" by offering training and learning materials as well as peer support.


At the opposite end are the thought leaders and pioneers and they also are a minority. They help you to develop the data related practices and evangelise data literacy skills inside your organisation.


Are we overloading the expectations?


Still I'm wondering is the hype on data literacy a bit the same as was the case regarding programming skills some years ago. Back then some claimed that all must be able to program and develop apps. Some countries even changed their curriculum because of this. Now I think that opinions have become less intense in that matter. Is this going to happen for the data literacy as well?