What is 'data literacy' and why is its significance to businesses, workforces and society clearly on the rise? Data literacy is the ability to understand, engage, analyze and reason with data that continues to proliferate in the digital era. And as the global pandemic has shown us, data literacy is more than an essential skillset for data scientists - it is about society at large gaining a fundamental understanding of the language and value of data in all of its forms and applications.

Data literacy allows us to think more critically, ask the right questions, and better interpret the numbers and statistics being presented to us daily in an endless array of contexts and circumstances. Beyond its unquestionable usefulness for individuals, data literacy has become indispensable for businesses today. The advantages of collecting, storing, reporting and analyzing data to generate timely marketplace insights and smart decision making are clear. Unfortunately, KPMG professionals see many organizations struggling with the critical need to maximize the value that data can deliver.

The data literacy journey requires today's businesses to enhance the data and analytics skills and roles of their employees within modern, data-driven cultures. This includes the need to refine recruitment efforts in order to attract skilled talent that can appropriately engage with and interpret data - ultimately maximizing its value to the business.

Speaking the language of data

KPMG professionals see the need for four diverse data literacy roles to exist within organizations today, each with its own skillset as well as opportunities to continually enhance data literacy:

  • Data Believers - Typically consisting of management, areas to focus on for true data literacy include understanding the value of data for informed decision making that's based on data analysis - rather than simply relying on `instincts' or a `gut-feeling.'
  • Data Users - Typically process owners, their focus will include identifying and understanding what each dataset contains, where the data comes from and the useful insights it can provide.
  • Data Scientists - Areas to focus on among these experts include improving communication capabilities in order to effectively present and explain the value of their data analysis and significant findings to all relevant stakeholders.
  • Data Leaders - Business intelligence specialists and other appointed data leaders will need to be key drivers of data literacy within their organization. A data leader will be comfortable with analytical methodologies and understand the business perspective while also serving as the front-runner of data-driven initiatives and innovations.
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The journey includes customers

Today's forward-looking businesses also realize the need for a data literacy journey that addresses the fast-evolving expectations and demands of increasingly data-savvy customers. In today's customer-centric environment, consumers are looking for an endless selection of timely information about the companies they deal with, including product and service details, processes and personalized interactions, innovations and much more. KPMG firms are also seeing among clients the desire for greater interaction with data itself in order to gain their own valuable insights into the businesses they are relying on for products and services.

KPMG has developed an integral approach to increasing data literacy and embedding a true data-driven culture within organizations. Beyond a focus on implementing the right technology, KPMG professionals combine the technical with a clear focus on human capabilities, with the aim of creating the right skills for change and success.

Ultimately, a truly data-literate business can generate unprecedented advantages as it evolves organization-wide to understand data and communicate its value and insights. Better decision making can translate into enhanced business efficiency and competitive advantage, drive growth and increase stakeholder trust. A new language for a new era is emerging and forward-looking businesses are wisely embracing the challenge.

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Data literacy in action

KPMG firms continues to work with clients in various industries as they look to achieve new levels of data literacy. For a leading bank, KPMG professionals provided expertise to support the design of an internal communications strategy on data analytics. The goals of the program were specifically tailored to the bank's various employee roles and groups and included members of the bank's board.

KPMG data specialists also helped a large European retailer looking to become a market leader in its use and application of data. We designed a data-literacy innovation plan featuring webinars, workshops, roadshows and online training, all aimed at increasing skills and awareness organization-wide regarding the smart use of customer and marketplace data.

A KPMG firm also collaborated with a large telecom company to implement an online-learning program designed to help employees increase their knowledge regarding the various capabilities, rules and regulations governing appropriate data use by the organization.