As data and analytics strategies become integral to all aspects of digital business, achieving data literacy is essential in a company’s roadmap to becoming data fluent. Increasingly, we are seeing business leaders make data literacy a priority. Chief data officers (CDOs) and chief data analytics officers (CDAOs) are investing in data literacy programs and upskilling for improved decision-making and productivity to help solve critical business challenges.
Recently I spoke with Nollie Maoto, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at First National Bank — one of South Africa's "big four" banks — about the importance of data literacy as an essential skill set for everyone who works in business today, and a must for every organization to remain competitive.
Maoto identifies three core business objectives when creating and implementing a data-driven literacy strategy: developing relevant decision-making skills, employing a learning and development training program, and applying a “mental” model.
CDO Field Guide takeaways:
- Data literacy is the key to better decisions. Its success is crucial; outcomes and investments depend on it.
- Know what data literacy is and what it means for you. Acknowledge that it’s different for all organizations.
- Remember that everyone learns differently. Not everyone is suited to the same training programs.
The Case for the Data-Driven Decision Maker
According to Maoto, making the correct business decision has never been more critical than it is today amidst the increase in data flows. She said businesses are dedicating more resources to managing their information better and applying it so employees can incorporate that data into solid decision-making — taking raw data and turning it into workable information.
“Data literacy has become important for almost everybody, and companies need more people with that ability to interpret data, draw insights from it, and ask the right questions in the first place,” said Maoto. “The reality is that a lot of legacy companies and organizations have been operating in silos for a very long time where people like to own the data, and they don't like sharing it.”
At First National Bank, Maoto said, they’ve centralized and created centers of competency to democratize their data. This has helped create a more streamlined data flow process, allowing their employees to collaborate more efficiently and arrive at better answers.
“There's no point in having all these data analytics teams that are creating all these information assets and creating all these data products if the end users are not able to consume them,” she notes. “If you're going to be in a position to make decisions, you need to understand what that data is saying. It's not just for the senior level executives making decisions.”
Maoto said that data for the decision-making process isn’t just for senior executives, but it cascades down throughout the organization to senior management, middle management, and even junior and entry management. “People are making decisions every single day with the data points they gather.”
Building Data Literacy in Your Company
To get started on data literacy, business leaders need to understand what it means to them and establish a common language for learning. Maoto said Jacques Celliers, CEO of FNB, was an early champion of developing an e-learning and development program for their data analytical team.
When Celliers was formulating the strategy for the bank, he insisted that data be at the center of everything that the bank did and stressed that no decisions should be made if data did not underpin them. His mission led the bank’s first L&D initiative.
“One of the best things we did was develop videos with our L&D team for our staff’s literacy journey,” Maoto said. “In the videos, we are navigating over the different data products.”
The e-learning modules not only helped the staff to visualize the various data analytic products and platforms at their own pace, but it also served as a critical learning tool that supported staff at all levels - from new employees to longtime employees — who could leverage video content to learn new skills or simply access as a “refresher course” to brush up on best practices.
“Mental Model” Fundamentals
Maoto said that employing a mental model that matches a person's skills or expertise is another key factor that can help organizations drive success in data literacy. Applying the model involves identifying what lies within your “Circle of Competence” – a concept originally coined by Warren Buffet to help make better decisions and act from within that circle only.
For example, Maoto said First National Bank uses the same theory to help improve the bank’s odds of success by leveraging their data experts and putting them in areas where they are the most familiar, and to emphasize the importance of aligning subjective assessments of one's skills with actual, real-world competence.
“What I like about this particular mental model is applying it to identify what lies within your circle of competence and then making decisions and taking actions from within that circle,” said Maoto. “So, once you assess a challenge in terms of that circle of competence, it provides you with a guide as to the sort of action that you should prioritize and invest in.
“You have to ask yourself: Do you pass on it by letting it go and not engaging with it if it's something that you don't understand? Or do you learn about it by developing expertise and growing your circle of competence as a result? And then lastly, do you outsource it by consulting, engaging, or partnering with somebody else who has the same issue within their circle of competence but also has the expertise?”
Every organization today is, at its core, a data-driven organization, making it more critical than ever to invest in tools and practices that promote data literacy. Employees who master data literacy will contribute more to their roles and help businesses improve their competitive edge. A robust data literacy program can not only help transform a business but also engender employee loyalty and help build an educated workforce that feels empowered by your investment in their professional development.
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About the Authors
VP - Evangelist and Senior Architect
Ben is VP-Evangelist and Senior Architect with Rackspace Technology. He works with enterprises, architecting solutions to enable them to drive business outcomes through thriving in a multicloud world. He is a 35-year veteran in multiple industries including health care, manufacturing, and technology consulting. Prior to Rackspace, Ben was with Covail, a leading-edge provider of AI/ML and cybersecurity services to Fortune 1000 clients. At Covail, Ben was VP of Delivery and transitioned to VP of Revenue and Client Success. A recognized technology leader, Ben was named a Premier 100 leader by Computerworld. Outside of work, he loves to travel, ride his bike, and spend time with his wife and four daughters. He is an active organizer in the tech community and curates the Central Ohio CIO forum (150+ CIOs) and founded Techlife Columbus. Ben also serves on the Pitch Advisory Board for South by Southwest and the Editorial Board for CDO Magazine.Read more about Ben Blanquera