Why Data Literacy Matters for the Enterprise

By Nolan Necoechea

Published on March 27, 2020

Thirty years ago, the “holy grail” for companies was organizing all enterprise data in one location to achieve a “single source of truth.” Back then, IT held tight control over data and dripped out insights to the organization. Today, however, it’s a very different story: The advent of big data and the associated move to democratize data are driving enterprises to put data in the hands of more people. But does the workforce know how to use the data effectively? Is the organization data literate?

Just like literacy in the general sense, data literacy is the ability to read, understand, work with, and analyze data. In her latest report, Jennifer Belissent, principal analyst at Forrester, examines the importance of data literacy for the data-driven enterprise.

Data literacy is challenging because it’s not just about a technology or tool (though they can be helpful), it’s about empowering people with the skills to use the data effectively. In today’s business environment, everyone from the C-suite on down the org chart needs to be data literate.

However, Belissent’s research shows that a huge gap between being a data-driven organization and data literacy exists in most organizations. In her report, which is based on the findings of a survey of 3,000+ respondents worldwide, she writes that while “90 percent of global data and analytics decision makers see increasing the use of data insights in business decision-making as a priority…91 percent of these same decision makers report that improving the use of data insights in decisioning is challenging for their organizations.” So how can organizations close that gap?

Many companies are waking up to the realization that they must implement data literacy programs in order to close the gap. And by making it easier to capture knowledge about data and collaborate with the stewards and SMEs who understand the data best, Alation has become a key piece of the data literacy puzzle for many customers. With Alation as part of their data literacy programs, enterprises have a single source of reference for everyone in the company to access and, more importantly, understand data.

One of those companies, American Family Insurance, even won a prestigious Digital Leadership Award from Ventana Research for its data literacy efforts, in which Alation plays a significant role. As part of the company’s three-year digital transformation strategy, American Family created people transformation initiatives to teach users how to take advantage of the cloud and empower them to make data-driven decisions. As Peter Settel, CTO of American Family noted in an interview with Forbes, “Data and digital transformation is not foremost about cloud or technology, but about people and how we create the citizen data analyst across the whole enterprise.”

Using the Alation Data Catalog to change users’ data habits, American Family delivered high-quality data that contained rich business metadata and consolidated the silos of data knowledge across the business into a centralized, dynamic single source of reference. American Family’s data literacy program continues to grow and has plans to include all 12,000 company employees.

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