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How data literate is your business workforce?

Using data to drive business decisions can be at times the difference between winning or losing in today’s dynamic and competitive marketplace. However, deriving meaningful insights from data and converting knowledge into action is easier said than done and the big question is - do businesses have the right talent with relevant skillsets to recognise and capitalise the potential of data?

The data-driven business world has meant that there is an unprecedented demand and a recruitment war for matched human resources with relevant data literacy skillsets by organisations of all forms and sizes. The required analytical skills have become highly sought after both in the business world and in non-business-related fields such as politics, healthcare, engineering, sports and education. The growing volume of data (which will only continue to increase with the rise of 5G networks) and the society’s desire to remain connected, has added more complexity to the challenges associated with developing capabilities by organisations to understand and interpret increasing volumes of data. 

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Applying appropriate analytics techniques, managing technical staff, aligning business analytics to organisational strategy, managing data analytics projects and interpreting rapidly evolving analytics techniques remain key challenges for businesses.  This has paved the way for an increasing demand for roles such as Data Scientists, Machine Learning (ML) Experts and Analysts whilst also resurrecting fields such as Data Mining and Artificial Intelligence (AI) within the business field. 

Against this backdrop, it is no doubt that businesses should not only simply find new emerging talent in the labour market, but there is also a need to support the development of their existing workforce through reskilling and upskilling opportunities. Equally, individuals also need to take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning in order to remain in sync with the data-driven business landscape. A recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) called “The Future of Jobs 2018” highlighted that some of the fastest growing jobs by 2022 across all industries include Data Analysts and Scientists. This means businesses’ ability to compete will increasingly be driven by how well it can leverage data, apply analytics and implement new technologies.  There exists debate on if “data is the new oil” which some might argue are deceivingly simple mantras for the modern world. But one thing is certain, several businesses are successfully cultivating a data-driven culture for driving operational efficiency through automation and increasing profitability by gaining customer insight and offering personalised products and services.

So, what if businesses are not prepared and do not have a data literate workforce? The promise of data and analytics for businesses has also resulted in major challenges such as consumer distrust and ethical concerns associated with responsible collection and use of data. The dangers that come with data being misused and being breached are enormous as strict data laws (similar to EU’s General Data Protection Regulation law) are being enforced by governments across the world in light of serious mishaps in the recent times. A recent data misuse example being Instagram having to remove US marketing company “Hyp3r” from its service after it was accused of grabbing users' data. The marketing company was held accountable for scraping Instagram profiles, copying photos and siphoning off data that was supposed to be deleted after 24 hours. These sorts of malicious activities (intentionally or unintentionally) are constantly repeated, and you would think Facebook (Instagram’s owner) would have been more vigilant given the fact that were already in the limelight with data grabbing issues in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Such privacy concerns, if not well addressed by skilled and data literate professionals, not only has a negative impact on vulnerable users, but also has a significant impact on loss of credibility for businesses and hamper its reputation. The above is just one example and businesses are left with rising number of serious challenges where organisations and consumers suffer from privacy invasion, fraud, offensive or harmful marketing appeals, lack of transparency, information leakage, and identity theft.

So, the question remains, do businesses have the right talent in place with the relevant skillsets to either seize the opportunities or tackle the challenges associated with use of data? Businesses, educators and governments, all have an active role in developing future labour force who are data literate to succeed as managers and leaders of the future.

Dr Sankar Sivarajah BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, FHEA, MCILT

Head of Research Centre, Business Analytics, Circular Economy and Supply Chain (BACES)

Reader, Technology Management and Circular Economy

School of Management, University of Bradford.

Sankar's staff profile.