Not Data Scientists, Leaders Should Make Data Their Superpower

Changing how leaders make decisions takes time. But it's faster and easier with a systematic approach and strategic use of big data analytics.

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  • [Image source: Anvita Gupta/MITSMR Middle East]

    Management expert W. Edwards Deming once said, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” We know that data is all-powerful today — it’s what makes artificial intelligence (AI) tick. But even in an age where data is everything, many leaders have no qualitative experience or do not understand data well enough to make good decisions. 

    Against a backdrop of the criticality of data, driving literacy efforts throughout the organization and creating a culture of trust in data present immediate challenges to companies to have leaders who can work with and understand data to drive business impact.

    “Merely hiring experts in data is insufficient. Leaders must possess a fundamental level of data literacy to navigate contemporary business environments,” says Michel Ghorayeb, Managing director at SAS UAE.

    Changing how leaders make decisions takes time. But it’s faster and easier with a systematic approach and strategic use of big data analytics. It is integral to informed decision-making, innovation, and operational efficiency.

    Overall Success and Competitiveness

    “Leaders in management must possess a high level of data literacy to interpret, analyze, and leverage data effectively for their organizations’ overall success and competitiveness,” adds Ghorayeb.

    According to a recent study by Forrester, data-literate employees can innovate more and be confident and are better, faster, and more productive in decision-making by 50%. 

    “In the digital age, you can’t run your business or manage your team without the ability to understand or communicate the data in context,” says Ahmed Adly, Vice President of Cloud Engineering, Middle East Africa and Turkey, Oracle. “However, it is important to understand that data literacy is not one skill for all employees or managers. Different roles or jobs require different focus on data literacy.”

    Data Literacy is Not Just the Job of Data Scientists

    According to reports, leaders expect data literacy from all department employees to succeed in their day-to-day work. However, while employees also feel that data skills are important for their success, only 40% of them find their organization provides them with the data skills they’re expected to have. 

    “There is a major disconnect that needs to be addressed by advanced data literacy training and upskilling,” says Adly.

    Data literacy is more than just the job of data scientists, data architects, and Chief Data Officers. Simply put, the data team can’t do everything. If data analytics is walled inside the confines of the data team, the data team and everyone else will suffer.

    Leaders also are responsible for establishing data literacy in their organizations. 

    Some organizations think that data literacy skills are mainly technical skills like statistical analysis, data visualization, data management, data science, or even data programming, says Adly.

    “But real-life examples show that employees enterprise-wide need the minimum level of non-technical data literacy skills like critical thinking, data research to learn how to evaluate sources and spot biases, and data communication.”

    Since IT or BI teams are often isolated from business decision makers, common data literacy challenges, like organizational silos, business leaders should be ready to handle, adds Adly.

    “With unprecedented data production and consumption levels, leaders must be responsible for data governance to ensure insights are properly vetted.”

    Leaders must understand the capabilities that support data strategy — things like master data management, metadata, or data catalogs — at a foundational level, pay attention, and hear what’s involved.

    It’s hard to say leaders are serious about data without having made any serious investments in defining what data literacy means for the company, establishing a baseline of data literacy skills, and building a data culture.

    Most importantly, how a data initiative can lead to financial returns and create value in different ways is a vital component of a data strategy for leaders. Research shows large enterprises with strong corporate data literacy have up to 5% higher enterprise value. 

    “This is a result of comprehensive data literacy programs which yield substantial improvements in customer experience, employee retention as well as tangible business outcomes, including revenue maximization and cost reduction,” says Adly.

    In the end, the significance of big data extends beyond the volume of information at hand. Its value lies in how effectively it is utilized. 

    Through the extraction and analysis of data from diverse sources, businesses can streamline resource management, enhance operational efficiencies, drive new revenue and growth opportunities, and facilitate intelligent decision-making, Ghorayeb says, integrating big data with high-performance analytics empowers businesses to accomplish various tasks, such as pinpointing the root causes of a problem in real-time, translating data into insights, recalculating entire risk portfolios within minutes, and detecting fraudulent behavior before it poses a threat.

    “This capacity to analyze extensive datasets in real-time enables organizations to promptly adapt to shifting market conditions, emerging trends, and potential disruptions, ultimately resulting in enhanced financial returns,” he adds.

    Data literacy requires a fundamental shift in thinking. It’s not a matter of completing a training session. Creating new business value through data and defining what data literacy means to leaders and their organizations should be part of the process.

    Keen to know how emerging technologies will impact your industry? MIT SMR Middle East will be hosting the second edition of NextTech Summit.


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