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How Data Leaders Can Become Powerful Agents for Change

Promoting data literacy and culture is essential to the success of any digital transformation

Developing analytical skills is like fishing. Giving someone a rod isn’t enough. They must genuinely want to catch a fish if they’re going to learn how to use it. Even then, they’ll need someone to show them how.

The point is, business leaders must put the right conditions in place to engineer change. Yet, many companies neglect data literacy in the early stages of their data transformations, believing that the capabilities they develop will create their own demand. This is a costly mistake. Unless a company equips its staff with data-driven tools and the skills to use them, those tools will never be widely used.

“If you want to make data a part of every company decision, you have three tests: the mindset, the skillset and the dataset,” says Kshira Saagar, Group Director of Data Science and Analytics at Global Fashion Group. “It’s almost like a circle within a circle, within a circle.”

“We want to teach people the things they can do,” he continues. “Once they have access to the tools and data, and they have the skillset, their mindset changes by themselves.”

How to Cultivate Data-Driven Mindsets

Successful data leaders focus their initial efforts on the business units and staff within their organizations that are most open to working with data.

These early adopters will become ‘data champions’, who help to convey the benefits of being data-driven to the rest of the business. But in these early stages, data leaders must ensure that these staff members have access to basic training and the time to complete it.

“People who do need to increase their data literacy don’t necessarily have the time to do it, because it wasn’t considered part of their job when they first started,” explains Jane Shrapnel, Principal Data Scientist at Sydney Children’s Hospital Network.

“If you’re picking a project that’s valuable to them, they’ll show up, they’ll be engaged and they’ll learn along the way”

– Jane Shrapnel, Principal Data Scientist, Sydney Children’s Hospital Network

At the same time, partnering with staff to choose which projects to deliver first helps to ensure that they will embrace change.

“Because clinicians are time-poor, it needs to be of value to them,” Shrapnel says. “If you’re picking a project that’s valuable to them, they’ll show up, they’ll be engaged and they’ll learn along the way.”

“Start micro,” recommends Dan Costanza, Chief Data Scientist, Banking, Capital Markets & Advisory at Citi. “If you try and go and convince the whole organization that they should be doing these things, that’s very hard. If you want to go and convince a couple of people of it, that’s a whole lot easier.”

“If you’re able to do that well enough that they start to talk about the things you’re doing and bringing to the table to others,” he adds. “That’s way more effective than trying to start from the top down.”

Empower Staff to Generate Their Own Insights

For data culture to take hold within an organization, data leaders must also arm staff with the tools to access and analyze datasets for themselves.

So long as business units need to ask the data team to generate insights for them, they won’t be able to access all the information they need to make data-driven decisions. As Saagar says, self-service tools are essential for scaling data culture across an organization.

“[Companies] buy expensive software with licensing structures, which means you’re not going to give everyone access to everything,” he says. “That means people are just hungry for data and can’t make decisions.”

“If you want to make data a part of every company decision, you have three tests: the mindset, the skillset and the dataset”

– Kshira Saagar, Group Director of Data Science and Analytics, Global Fashion Group

“We wanted to break that circuit,” he adds. “What we built for the marketing team, for example, is a tool they can use themselves to build whatever dashboards they want without having to talk to any of us.”

“That saves them from spending the first 2-4 hours of the day collecting yesterday’s data,” he continues. “Now, they come into work, open up a dashboard and start to make decisions instantly.”

This is exactly the kind of ‘quick win’ that helps build support for data culture within an organization. It addresses a known pain point and empowers staff to generate new insights quickly and easily. But of course, tools like these aren’t much use if a company isn’t also arming staff with the skills to use them.

Teach Staff How to Use These New Tools

Data literacy levels in APAC are presently low. A recent survey from Qlik shows that just 20% of workers are confident in their ability to read, work with, analyze and argue with data. That means even teams that are eager to use data-driven tools are likely to have members who will struggle to use them.

As such, organizations must provide data literacy programs to train staff in the principles of good data usage and management. These courses should also inform people how working with data will improve their lives.

“With each product, there needs to be a certain level of training incorporated into it,” says Shrapnel. “As soon as someone has a new system that they’re going to be using, we definitely need to show the value they’ll get from putting data into that.”

As an organization seeks to become increasingly data-driven, it can even be worth developing additional courses to empower staff to do things like write their own code or build their own dashboards.

By coupling these initiatives with new data-driven business processes, CDAOs can become powerful agents for change within their organizations.

Arming staff with the skills to use data-driven tools is essential for getting new projects off the ground. Meanwhile, the ‘social proof’ early successes generate will help interest in these data-driven ways of working to spread throughout the enterprise.


This is an excerpt from our The Data Literacy Blueprint report. Claim your copy today to discover six ways data and analytics leaders can drive data literacy within their organisations.