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Improving data literacy and stewardship is the key to better business decisioning

By Stefanos Kapetanakis | Senior vice-president of data and technology

November 16, 2022 | 6 min read

Despite the hype around data-based decision-making, organizations frequently neglect the role of cross-functional data literacy in the success of a venture, writes Publicis Health Media’s Stefanos Kapetanakis as part of our Data & Privacy Deep Dive.

hands solving a Rubik's cube

/ Adobe Stock

We’re entering the golden age of data, with companies across industries amassing large amounts to influence decisions both macro and micro. With sources multiplying and the deprecation of third-parties cookies looming, the data deluge is only set to grow.

Marketers have a pressing need to evaluate its management and application as, despite the value placed on acquiring data, most people are not comfortable interpreting it.

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that the US ranked 21st out of 23 countries participating in a data interpreting assessment. Furthermore, a data literacy survey by Accenture of more than 9,000 employees in a variety of roles found that only 21% were confident in their data literacy skills – defined as the ability to read data, work with data, analyze data and argue with data.

We need to step up our data literacy to future-proof our workplaces and to derive the benefits. To convert employees across disciplines to effectively use data to solve for concrete goals, leadership must prioritize data literacy.

The values of data literacy

While training and recognition can be timely and expensive, the organizational benefits of data evangelization are numerous. It can help companies identify and capitalize on market trends, empower new decision-makers and pinpoint areas for operational improvement. Further, it can be a tool for tapping into new revenue streams and helping maximize innovation and product development.

Without data literacy, it becomes impossible to extract and apply the best possible insights, let alone integrate that data-informed strategy across teams. Above all, data cannot be relegated to just one team – everyone across the organization needs to have a data mindset.

To increase data literacy across an organization, leaders need to focus on its building blocks: namely, data stewardship and self-service.

Data literacy equates to data stewardship plus self-service

Data stewardship is the management and oversight of data assets to ensure users have the highest quality data. Certainly, when working across sources, input quality control is essential to guarantee an effective strategic output. However, if data stewardship is not restricted to governance alone, talent across the agency will have the opportunity to acquire new skills and be empowered by data democratization.

When employees of all kinds understand how to use data well, they are better equipped in important decision-making processes. Practically, this means strengthening enterprise master data management and developing clear policies and procedures where they do not currently exist. The benefits to this initial investment are game-changing and can include garnering unique insights from different business applications and driving employee retention.

The other half of the equation, however, is self-service. Core to actual functionality is the tools and automation at scale that allows data engagement for all agency teams. Limited data access is a hurdle to insights and progress.

To enable talent to leverage data in a sophisticated manner, they must have as little friction as possible once trained on platform and product uses. This should include a thorough audit of the systems and tools in place to allow talent broader access to data via self-service, so they might read and analyze data themselves.

A recent survey by Matillion and IDG Research found more than half of respondents said that lines of business rely on data teams to build and set up analytics dashboards – rather than handling these tasks themselves. Respondents who work on data teams said nearly 70% of business lines rely on data teams to access and process data on their behalf. This shows a pressing need for improved self-service.

The available systems should contribute to a strong data fabric in which connectivity and interoperability are prioritized. This self-service, paired with the strong foundation of stewardship, will allow all talent to engage with data in a meaningful way.

A future-focused effort

Despite all that has been written and discussed about data, many businesses are missing a hallmark of a powerful data program: a cross-functional army of data advocates with a sophisticated understanding of how and why to work with data.

If we relegate data developments to the few, we can’t maximize the business benefits. A future-proof company is necessarily built with people who have the ability to ask the right questions, interpret data and discover new insights.

Stefanos Kapetanakis is senior vice-president of data and technology at Publicis Health Media.

For more on how the world of data-driven advertising and marketing is evolving, check out our latest Deep Dive.

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