Data Literacy in the Digital Workplace

If you’ve ever heard someone say (or been guilty of saying), “I’m just not a numbers person,” it’s time to give yourself a 21st-century makeover. Because in today’s digital, data-driven, and dynamic world, we all need to be numbers people. Data literacy is now one of the most important skills you can bring to the digital workplace. Like all kinds of literacies, it can be taught.

What is Data Literacy?

Data literacy sounds a bit like a jargon word you hear thrown around at conferences and fear asking for a definition. Understanding the meaning of data literacy is the first step towards achieving it. It’s simple: data literacy is the ability to read, understand, draw conclusions from, and communicate about raw data.

Data literacy is more than just being able to look at numbers without feeling like you’re staring at a Magic Eye puzzle. With data, the ability to analyze accurately requires the ability to look beyond the numbers to check the data source for accuracy and reliability. Data literacy requires traditional mathematical skills, as well as curiosity, healthy skepticism, and critical thinking.

Data literate people also possess the ability to take complex data and translate it in ways that are digestible for those less data literate. One of the most effective tools in this regard is data visualization, which capitalizes on the brain’s fast processing of images and graphics to make data easier to understand and remember.

Why Data Literacy Matters

Thanks to the internet, it’s easy than ever to collect massive amounts of data on just about any topic. Not only does more data exist than ever before, more people than ever before have access to it. That abundance of information has created a flatter playing field where competitors in business have fewer proprietary secrets, and more competition is constantly popping up.

In the digital workplace, staying ahead of the competition means being able to take the vast amount of information out there, and use it to make data-driven decisions about what works, what doesn’t, and what customers want. The better grasp a business has on data, the smarter their decisions will be.

But it’s not just understanding and acting on data that matters; it’s speed. All of the competition is simultaneously trying to make data-driven decisions, making it necessary to not just outthink, but also outplace others in your space. In order to achieve that speed, you need more than just a data function with one or two team members on your roster. Everyone in your organization needs to be data literate—from your sales team to your marketers to your HR function to your executives. The more people on your staff who can find, validate, analyze, and draw conclusions from data, the more agile your digital workspace will become.

How To Gain Data Literacy

We’re seeing more universities add data-centered degrees to their curricula. For post-grads without plans to return to school, there are numerous resources online, from free articles to complete college courses online at your disposal.

Learning any new skill requires research and practice. Look at your current job for data that should be analyzed and better understood. You’ll find no shortage of subject matter, I’m sure.

Many companies are also investing in technology that facilitates data literacy by making data less complex to find, analyze, and visually convey — modern business intelligence tools are a perfect example of this. The right technology can help create data scientists out of anyone on your staff and make data-driven, innovative decision-making a best practice.