Raising a glass to the fourth industrial revolution: Data literacy

Up until the early part of the 20th century, reading and writing was a privilege reserved for the select few. As the third industrial revolution gathered pace, reading and writing quickly started to become a necessity and a requirement in everyone’s education. It became a key component in driving the new industrial era and today, as we fast forward a hundred years or so, the fourth industrial revolution looms large. There is a new kind of literacy and it’s becoming just as critical: this is the language of data.

Love it or loathe it, we now live in a world where our fridges can tell us that our milk has just turned, 90% of Instagram’s content is pictures of people’s lunch and Amazon knows what your kids are getting for Christmas 11 months before you do. How and Why? Beats me. Yet despite all of this, for some unfathomable reason Alexa refuses to accept that “Blackburn Rovers” does not mean “Forest Green Rovers” and despite having what can only be described as a “heated domestic” she refused to budge an inch. I had to settle for the latest results of the League 2 minnows when I wanted to know how my promotion chasing outfit were getting on at Gillingham. As I sheepishly trudged off to Morrisons for another bottle of semi-skimmed and a Twix, I reflected on the rather colourful words I used with my online companion. Perhaps I was a little rash, she only understands “soccer” after all.

So what does this all mean?

Well, as day 2 of Qlik Qonnections come to a close, I thought I’d give the Gator Drool IPA a miss tonight and tuck into a conventional Bud Light; it helps me blend in with the Americans at the bar. I fully expected to be writing/evangelising about just how great a product Qlik Sense is. I’ve seen some truly magical capabilities of Qlik Sense today, delivered by people who are genuinely passionate about data, yet I find myself travelling a less-beaten, but arguably more important, path tonight.

I attended several sessions with Qlik’s Global Head of Data Literacy, Jordan Morrow. He talked about how data literacy is as important as reading and writing, but we’re facing a major skills gap. That’s why Qlik is on a mission to help people and organisations understand, analyse and use data with confidence.

As I discussed in my previous webinar, data literacy is “the ability to read, work with, analyse and argue with data”. (You can check out the next two FREE webinars in the series here)

How has this skills gap around data literacy and understanding occurred? The simple answer is that technology has moved forward at such a frightening pace in recent times that the “human” element has been neglected. It’s safe to say that a “literacy skills gap” has opened up and, if left unfettered, will become a chasm. In a Forbes article from 2017, it is stated: “Increasingly, this data literacy divide will impede organizations of all shapes and sizes from reaping higher rewards from their data investments.” Furthermore, “Poor data literacy” debuted at no. 2 (second only to “culture change”) in a recent Gartner survey around barriers to digital transformation.

In the real world, data literacy issues are commonplace, seldom noticed but regularly ignored. Data related terminology, from the definition of an organisation’s measurements and KPIs (such as profit, retention and even sales) to a simple definition of a “customer” can often be interpreted differently by different people and departments. This can lead to a lack of understanding of data and multiple versions of the truth, which can in turn lead to needless debates and wasted man hours establishing the facts and at worst, bad business decisions are made which can ultimately have dire consequences. With this in mind, businesses of all shapes and sizes would do well to start treating data literacy as something akin to learning a second language.

It’s not just the conflicting language we use in our day to day business of discussing data that makes up this data literacy skills gap. Businesses that take time to educate employees on some of the fundamental concepts of working with data, such as how to select the correct visualisation/chart to convey a message/story clearly will be the winners. Of course, not every consumer of data is, or ever will be, a data scientist, and by the same token not every data scientist will be a consumer of data. What is important is that anybody who works with data, no matter what skill level, takes the initiative to uncover a deeper and more complete understanding of their data and constantly ask “why?”. Only then can you start to get a fuller, unbiased understanding of data, with common definitions that everyone can understand.

Importantly, this will not happen on its own. People won’t embrace a data literacy culture if we don’t emphasise its importance. Therefore, creating a culture where data literacy can flourish starts at the top.

When all is said and done what good is the latest technology if we cannot use it to it’s full potential?

It’s been another thoroughly inspiring and thought provoking day here at Qlik Qonnections and I can’t wait for tomorrow. Coupled with that, my beloved Blackburn Rovers have been promoted back to the football Championship tonight so there’s plenty of reasons to look forward to the rest of the week.

So, here’s to the new age of data literacy, and “Vive le revolution!!” Or, as they say in Blackburn, “Al’ drink te that!”

If you want to know more about data literacy and get ahead of the game, I would highly recommend you take a look at Qlik’s Data Literacy Program here: https://www.qlik.com/us/services/training/data-literacy-program. You will find lots of content on data literacy as well as practical advice on where to get started. There are also several free courses on offer to get started so there’s nothing to lose.

Thanks for reading.