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Forget Data Scientists - Make Everyone Data Savvy

You don’t have to be a data scientist to be data savvy. And that’s a good thing.

Many companies are putting massive focus on recruiting the rare beasts that are data scientists. But in doing so, they often forget the need for creating a much more data savvy culture overall.

Data is already becoming ubiquitous in business as well as in daily life. It used to be that the IT department could be contained to its own office or floor, but today, it’s becoming harder and harder to segregate the realm of data from any other aspect of business.

That means that data — and the application and analysis of said data — is going to become more and more important in every department, from sales to HR and from R&D to marketing.

The good news is that you don’t have to know how to code or do advanced maths to become data-savvy.  In fact, you don’t have to be particularly tech savvy at all.  What you do have to do is adopt a data-friendly mindset.

Whether you are looking to lead the way as a data-savvy employee, or lead the charge for culture change as a manager or C-level executive, here are some suggestions for encouraging everyone in your organization to become data savvy:

  • Embrace the idea that data is everywhere. It shouldn’t be too hard; the average employee interacts with data every day though his or her phone, personal email, and apps like Netflix and Amazon. Some basic understanding of what data is and how it is collected is all that is needed to start to see the bigger picture.  If you can store it, you can analyse it; so what data do you already store in your job? What could you learn from it?

  • Focus on how to ask the right questions rather than the method of arriving at the answers. I’ve written before about the fact that the biggest problem with big data isn’t the data itself, but that we are asking the wrong questions. The average employee doesn’t need to know how to write an algorithm or even query a database. What she does need to learn is how to ask the right questions — the ones that will actually help solve her business problems. For example, rather than starting with the data you have, ask what data points you need to get the answers you want.

  • Learn the ways data can help you in your own role. An HR professional doesn’t need to worry about supply chain management, but she might be interested in workflow, time management and productivity. Someone in sales can learn a lot from an aggregate of the data he collects on his leads. Each different job within a business can benefit from different data and reports.

  • Focus on processes. Processes within a business are generally places where you generate a lot of data and can manage data more efficiently. These can be great places to get staff on board with a new data-centric culture.

  • Understand that there’s no such thing as perfect data. Data newbies need to be taught and reminded that there are always anomalies in data sets, and that data needs to go through quality control and be cleaned before it is useful. Building these concepts and processes in from the start will eliminate big headaches later.

  • Embrace the idea that data is complementary to human insight. Depending on their jobs, some employees may be threatened by the idea of more data and more automation in the workplace. But remember that data is nothing without analysis, interpretation, and implementation. Data needs human insight and experience to be worth anything.

Opportunity for innovation in business has never been greater, but the companies that will succeed are the ones who will think creatively about their data assets and encourage new analytics and application development.

I think one reasons small startups can be so successful is that every employee on a small team is equally invested in the success of the idea. The lines between job descriptions blur, and insights are valued from every member of the team.

With a data-savvy culture, even large organisations can mimic some of the power of this model, empowering individual employees to not just see the big picture, but do something with it.

Do you feel your company is data savvy from top to bottom?  Or are you as an individual striving to become more data savvy — even if you don’t work in IT? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this trend in the comments below.

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