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Businesses understand the value of big data, but employees aren't being trained to use it

A study found that most data being collected is never analyzed, which may be due to a data skills gap.

A study from Accenture and data analytics firm Qlik has discovered a massive problem in the big data world: A skills gap that is costing companies billions of dollars.

There is a huge amount of data in the world, and the volume of it is only going to grow. Businesses of all types can find value in data analytics, and their employees agree: 87% of those surveyed believe that data is an asset for their organization. 

Despite most people understanding that the data their company collects could affect organizational future, not many people know what to do with it--and few are even trying. 

A mere 25% of respondents said they feel prepared to make use of data, only 37% think their decisions are made better with data, and 74% feel overwhelmed when working with data at all. 

Adding data to their workloads has caused one-third of workers to report taking at least one sick day due to stress tied to working with it. 

A lack of preparation and feeling stressed about data doesn't bode well for companies that want to utilize it to make decisions, especially when 36% of respondents reported that they would seek alternative methods of solving a problem without using data, and 14% said they would avoid the task altogether.

The bottom line is that data is in danger: It can transform businesses for the better and help improve organizational decision making and planning, but only if it's being utilized correctly. If Accenture is correct, it isn't.

How to build a data-literate organization

Data is the future of business, and organizations that want to remain competitive need to find a way to make use of it. That means building a data-literate organization, for which Accenture and Qlik have five tips.

1: Set expectations around data use

Know what kind of data you have, what you want to do with it, and why you want to do it. Once leadership knows these three things it's easy to start building a companywide model of who does what with data. 

Different groups will use data in different ways, and helping employees understand their role can relieve a lot of stress—especially when those who aren't data scientists realize they don't have to do the number crunching that's causing them stress.

2: Build a roadmap to your data goals

Adding data analytics to an organization is no easy task—business leaders need to start at square zero and get a baseline of where their organization is before even thinking about how to reach goals. 

A key part of this, the report said, is not making assumptions about the data skills of employees. "Our research has shown that some business leaders overestimate the capabilities of their workforce and their readiness to work with data."

Avoid making readiness mistakes by: "Assessing individual levels of data literacy; understanding the current availability and required adoption of technology and tools to support each type of user; [and] defining the data that users need to access to be productive and managing governance."

3: Acquire the right tools for the job

From software platforms to training, make sure that each employee has what they need to make use of data in their particular role. As mentioned above, what each group of people do with data varies, so be sure you're arming each group with what they need to succeed. 

"Enabling employees to work with the right data will not only improve their ability to realize its value, but also help boost their confidence to take actions from insights—ensuring that data is seen as a benefit, not a burden."

4: Close the skills gap

"With just one-fifth of the global workforce reporting that they are confident in their data literacy skills, business leaders should consider how data upskilling could help improve their employees' use of data."

This means not only training employees to do the hard math and analytics, but it also requires teaching collaboration skills and giving employees a reason to be curious about data and the results in can garner.

5: Create a culture of "co-evolution"

Data and its uses, the report said, will continue to evolve. That means that the skills needed to collect, categorize, assess, and act on data will need to evolve, too.

Data literacy and the training needed to achieve it is a continual process. Training programs will need to be regularly evaluated to keep them up to date, and employees will probably need supplemental training to keep them on the cutting edge of analytics.

"The most powerful asset for businesses in creating value from data is their people. Education and empowerment will be the true determining success factors in a data-literate world," the report concludes. 

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