What do a javelin thrower, a film executive and an oyster farmer have in common? They’re all in industries where data has become a vital tool for success. And they’re not alone – data literacy skills offer surprising benefits for every workplace, not just banking and business.
Data is both essential and opportunistic
Welcome to the golden age of data, where suddenly we have the means to collect and store vast troves of information on any topic. But for most people, our analytic skills are still catching up with the technology, and a massive portion of collected data goes unused.
In the 21st century, data literacy is what will help every industry stay relevant and thrive. It’s the ability to read, interpret and communicate about data in context, then critically assess it to transform a swathe of numbers into actionable insights.
And these skills have become essential for progress and success – we’re already seeing businesses that fail to invest in the data literacy of their employees getting left behind or entangled in embarrassing data management mistakes.
Of course, data literacy plays a major role in the financial services industry, where it’s used to understand customer needs and behaviour, identify and predict risk, detect money laundering and inform adaptive virtual assistants, among other uses.
But what about in, say, agriculture, sport or entertainment?
The world’s your oyster
Being well versed in data allows farmers to better predict weather conditions, monitor animal wellbeing and stock conditions, implement quality control and optimise harvest, ultimately helping tackle the global food shortage. For example, Australian oyster farmers now use sensors to measure oyster heartbeats, testing responses to different water temperatures and salinity levels.
A sporting chance
As well as data-driven cheating detection algorithms, we’re now seeing top professional athletes surround themselves with data-literate teams. Their coaches know how to use biodata to strategise, manage training and prevent injury.
Australian Olympic javelin Bronze medallist Kelsey-Lee Barber was part of a pilot program at the Australian Institute of Sport using a 3D motion tracking system to capture biomechanics, recording velocities, launch angles, forces and how her body moves when she throws.
Thanks to the vast amount of data available on consumer preferences, media and entertainment programming is no longer a game of chance. Instead, having a finger on the pulse is easy for executives, who use social media data to predict the interest of audiences and invest accordingly.
Schedules are optimised on distribution platforms, advertisers are easier to target, and algorithms can make more accurate individual user recommendations than ever before. Using big data analysis, Netflix saves $1 billion per year on customer retention.
Don’t let data insights slip through your fingers
Every business generates data, some of it unintentionally – think machine data from servers and networks, emails and customer purchasing trends. According to a Forrester report, 60–73 per cent of all data within an enterprise goes unused for analytics. You may already have access to much more data than you know how to analyse and putting it to use is key.
Learning techniques like data mining, text analytics, data visualisation and business intelligence can be a new source of market power.
A new way to tackle challenges
With the ability to interpret data, you can make decisions based on facts rather than emotion or tradition. This will provide a solid grounding for experimentation with new business strategies – it enhances the ability to be bold and take risks. On the other hand, being unable to interpret data stifles creativity.
You don’t need to be a maths whizz
It’s not just scientists and statisticians who need to develop data literacy. Even non-STEM majors can reap the rewards of picking up valuable data skills, often used to great advantage in conjunction with soft skills.
Even if you do not intend to be a specialist data analyst, there is always a need for people who are well versed enough to translate between data analysts and the rest of the business groups – for example, with visualisation of large data sets using Tableau. This will help apply insights in an agile way.
Isn’t there an expert for that?
Data is a vital business resource that can be used to your advantage, but you don’t necessarily want to share it with people outside of your organisation by employing an external data analyst.
Even if you have an internal Chief Data Officer who is adept at communicating naturally about collected data, they’ll be unable to operate effectively if data literacy is siloed in your company, with roadblocks around every corner. People intimately experienced with day-to-day operations will be better placed than data specialists to access the data, understand the goals and take swift action. This way, there’s no need to trust third parties with business secrets too.
Make data-driven decisions every day
Data can influence day-to-day decisions as well as bigger picture goals and strategies. It should be used to support daily operations, because better data literacy means better results on every level. Learning how to interpret the latest research and extract value from data means staying competitive.
Combat rising cybercrime
Being data literate is a huge help in the fight against increasing cybercrime. Data literate employees will better understand data hygiene and precautions that can prevent and reduce the severity of costly and embarrassing data breaches. This is particularly important now, with cyber scams increasing by 400 per cent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stay on the right side of the law and ethics
Data literacy is not just about collecting accurate information and interpreting it correctly. It’s also essential for understanding how to make safe and ethical decisions around data use. What to collect and how to store it securely are questions of growing importance in every industry.
Companies are now finding they have an ethical and legal responsibility towards stakeholders to take good care of the data they store. Safeguarding customer privacy and confidentiality is a must – and legally enforceable, what with the EU’s GDPR legislation applying to Australian businesses. Importantly, you can’t ensure end-to-end security of your company’s data without a widespread, solid understanding of how to interact with it.
Future-proof your employability
With this skill set, you’ll be able to hop from industry to industry. The scope of use is only growing year by year. In fact, the growing demand for data literacy is providing job-ready data professionals with big paydays and more opportunities than ever before.
Spending on data literacy skills is an investment that pays off, whatever your chosen workplace
You have an opportunity in front of you. Both executives and regular employees need to champion a data-first culture in their organisations – or get left behind. So whichever industry you’re in (or aiming for), start crunching those numbers!