October 26, 2021
Build Data Literacy and Culture to Increase ROI on Your Software Tools
Teaching employees to understand and communicate with data requires a mindset shift and top-down leadership.
Becoming a data-driven organization can involve technical challenges — establishing governance and maintaining security, for example — but generally, those challenges have straightforward solutions. The areas where organizations tend to struggle, in my experience, relate to data literacy and culture.
Unlike security, culture and literacy can’t be addressed with a technology solution. Without them, however, the best software in the world won’t yield the desired results.
Culture is important because a shift toward data-driven decision-making requires people to adopt a new way of thinking. They must recognize the value of data and learn how to incorporate it into processes. Often, this is not part of their usual habits and mindset. People must be willing to say, “I’m going to make my business case using data, rather than feelings or anecdotal evidence.”
On a manufacturing floor, for instance, getting employees to consult a dashboard to figure out when a machine may need repair is harder than simply making that dashboard available to them — it’s an entirely new way to work.
Help Employees Develop Data Literacy Appropriate to Their Roles
Data literacy is the first step toward empowering employees to use data more effectively. Literacy is essentially the ability to read, understand and communicate with data — to know which data is relevant and statistically significant.
Not everyone has to become a statistician. What matters is that people become as data-literate as they need to be for their particular roles. Some people will primarily consume data. Others will create dashboards. The goal is to get people to the level of expertise they need to interact with and question the data in the right way.
Highlight the Role of Data as a Valuable Business Resource
A data-oriented culture also requires that executives get on board. If leaders determine that data and analytics are a priority for an organization’s future, they need to say so clearly and to champion that belief in practice.
Leaders can also support the use of data as one way — but not the only way — to understand a situation. Businesses hire people for their ideas and creative thinking. Organizations should be guided by data, but not completely beholden to it.
For example, the data may point to a certain path as having the highest likelihood of success. Another choice may have a slightly lower likelihood of success. But if the business specialists who know their market believe there’s a justification to go that route, then the second choice might be the right way to go. Leaders can help their organizations thread the needle of prioritizing data while allowing for holistic decision-making.
Keep Lines of Communications Open Between Business and IT
Data-driven cultures work best when they reduce — rather than create — silos. This issue often arises for IT staff who execute data initiatives. When lines of business ask for a dashboard or other support, they shouldn’t just submit an IT ticket and walk away. It’s important for IT and lines of business to work together.
If IT staff members work in a vacuum, they may not deliver what a line of business needs. Conversely, if business areas each take sole ownership of the process, they may end up with their own systems, which will result in gaps and inconsistencies. IT and business leaders must collaborate to create the right outcome for the organization as a whole.
Story by Aaron Colwell, the leader and founder of CDW’s Data Platforms and Insight team. He has worked for over 15 years in the IT space helping customers solve complex problems and reach their desired technical and business outcomes with data platforms, analytics and security solutions.