Data Literacy and the CDO

I attended a CIO Event in New York today and there was a great session focused on Data Literacy, presented by Jordan Morrow from QlikView.

Simply put, Data Literacy (in a business context) is a person’s ability to read, understand, analyze and communicate data as actionable information, including using data to support an argument or a proposal.  Jordan conveyed that only ~20-33% of those surveyed (including senior executives) considered themselves Data Literate. At the same time, 80% of senior executives see leveraging data as an asset will be critical for continued success and growth.  

Responsibility for increasing the data literacy falls to the CDO, and should be a high priority, as it is a prerequisite for an organization achieving maturity in the data leverage space, and is a springboard for data innovation.

The benefits are clear.  If an organization achieves a higher level of data literacy, they will:

  • Be able to define a vision that more closely aligns with overall mission
  • Develop a strategy that aligns with culture and is more implementable and focused on achievable objectives
  • Distribute the execution across the organization with more stakeholder buy-in
  • Include data as a basis for decision-making
  • Improve professional skepticism around quality of data

If people are sensitive to the nature of data, they can be expected to incorporate risk-awareness when deciding how to handle data – for example, knowing they are handling PII may cause them to exercise better judgement around it’s treatment, or ask an SME for guidance.

It’s a tall order, especially given the acknowledged low current state of literacy, but can still be approached in a pragmatic way.  There are a number of methodologies out there for increasing Data Literacy that can be adapter to an organization.  Here are some thoughts on approach:

  • The CDO should chair a leadership-level steering committee with representation from all business areas, which sanctions the CDO’s agenda and champions the program;
  • Data Literacy should be on the agenda as a core element and critical-success-factor;
  • Steering committee members should become data literate;
  • Careful thought should go into how the literacy program in rolled out:
    • Culture is hard to change (and requires ongoing messaging and overt steering committee/senior leadership support)
    • Training triggers eye-rolling, especially if it’s not closely tied to a person’s day to day responsibilities
    • Raising literacy is iterative, and should be tied to roll-out of capabilities or products, so awareness and training is relevant and just-in-time.
    • Wins should be celebrated.
  • Since richer datasets might incorporate regulated data, Data Literacy training/awareness should cover appropriate data handling, based the nature of the data.  This has the added bonus in that if it’s delivered just-in-time, it will be more relevant to the use-case being introduced.

I came away from the CIO Event reminded that even though CDO responsibilities are growing on the market-facing side (e.g., data monetization), they should also be responsible for ensuring everyone in the organization is realizing the benefits of the “data economy”.

Contact me at james@jhoward.us


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