How HR can drive data literacy in their organisations

Data is the future of business, but most in the workforce lack even the most basic understanding of it.
By: | December 17, 2018


About the Author

Julian Quinn is the Regional Vice President for Qlik in Asia-Pacific.

As business decision makers step into Industry 4.0, questions around the uncertainty of the future; talent and staffing; and the impact of automation, AI and other technologies have remained unanswered – till now.

The answer lies in data and in equipping the workforce with data literacy. According to Qlik’s first-of-its-kind Data Literacy Index, almost all (98%) global business decision makers report that data is important in how their company currently makes decisions.

Understanding data can help inform the future; applying it allows businesses to remain competitive; and challenging and interrogating data can help individuals rise above fake news and see through the reams of information.

Yet, the reality is that data literacy is currently a skill beholden to a few individuals.

While not everyone needs to be a data scientist, it is a fact that general data literacy needs to be more widespread across all individuals, with businesses driving this skillset forward.

There lies a huge opportunity for HR leaders to spearhead this movement and here are three ways HR can contribute to building a data literate culture:


1. Future-proofing your organisation’s workforce

A PwC Global Industry 4.0 survey revealed that 82% of companies in Asia-Pacific expect data analytics to have a significant influence on decision-making in less than five years’ time, but the obstacle to this is an absence of a digital culture and the right skills to make operations even more digital.

Unsurprisingly, Qlik found that 9 out of 10 (91%) global business leaders view data skills as a key criterion for potential hires but many businesses fail to commit to the right training for employees.

When it comes to data literacy, just 34% of firms currently provide data literacy training and only 17% of business leaders report that their company significantly encourages employees to become more comfortable with data.

HR plays a crucial role in identifying areas of improvement for every individual and ensuring that the right training is accorded to those that need it.

Thankfully, almost two thirds of business decision makers globally (63%) plan to increase the number of data literate employees. It is paramount for businesses to proactively upskill employees now and look ahead to future recruitment.


HR plays a crucial role in identifying areas of improvement for every individual and ensuring that the right training is accorded to those that need it.

2. Developing a framework for data literacy

Businesses in the region cannot risk losing out on the opportunities that will be made possible by Industry 4.0, yet a mere 13% of businesses in Southeast Asia have started on an Industry 4.0 transformation process according to McKinsey,

Naturally, investing in training on data literacy is not enough to assume success.

HR must work with key business decision makers to develop a framework that incorporates a vision and strategic plan to achieve a data literacy nirvana and ensure sustainability and longevity.

To get even close to that, businesses must consider the three pillars of data literacy: data skills; data-driven decision making, and how widespread the use of data pervades an organization.


3. Encouraging a culture of data literacy

To cope with the challenges of Industry 4.0, it is essential that businesses recognise the benefits that data brings alongside the increased importance of having a data literate workforce, in order to fully harness the power of data.

To do that requires a fundamental culture shift.

One of the greatest challenges to that is a myopic vision that prevents businesses from seeing the true value in human capital development.

This contrasts employee sentiments where majority (72%) of full time workers in Asia Pacific would be willing to invest more time and energy in improving their data literacy skills, if given the chance, according to a 2018 Qlik survey.

Culture is key to driving change. There is no quick fix to this and organisations can begin by implementing a mindset change, starting from the boardroom.

Of course, this takes the work of an entire company to ensure that this culture change is implemented correctly.

By working closely with boardroom members and acting as the bridge between senior leadership and employees, HR can ensure that this culture of change is implemented correctly.

Businesses that are already at that stage should look at democratising data, which is simply to make data accessible to every employee regardless of the position they are in, in a governed way, and marry that with increased data literacy to further reap the benefits of data.

On an individual level, employees can take simple steps such as asking more questions, and interrogating facts and information given.

Closing the Literacy Gap

While it will take initiative to address this issue, the good news is that schools already have programmes in place to ensure future generations are equipped with critical data skills.

Businesses have also started to respond to the data skills shortage by addressing the need for data literacy at the workplace and through on the job training.

UOB is one prime example of a business that now puts data literacy at the core of its operations – something which was barely in place two years ago. UOB has since adapted its approach to data requirements and internal structures to better suit the needs of various major business units.

As of August 2018, UOB has trained over 350 employees in their head office in Singapore and will be expanding training to its international subsidiaries such as those in Southeast Asia.

With the greater presence of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, the fourth industrial revolution is looming. Data will be its universal language and those companies that master it will reap the rewards.