Analytics and Data Literacy

Analytics and Data Literacy

The role of our Consultancy is to help companies make the most of their data. The foundation of this is Data Literacy. Without Data Literacy, you cannot have a deep Data Culture and transition to become a Data-Driven Business without tackling Data Literacy’s challenge.

Data Literacy means helping people to understand what data means. If you ask yourself honestly, “How much of our Analytics are understood by the whole audience?” It is not uncommon in a Siloed Data Culture for few, if any, outside the producing team/department/division. This is a major challenge for developing your business, and moving to a data-focused business, you have to face this head-on and address this issue.

How does Data Literacy help our business?

Data Literacy is the central component in any data strategy, but why? Firstly, data is complicated, and often those looking at the analysis results are not involved in the tasks being analysed. The impact of this is incredibly damaging and is one that is extremely difficult for many to take in.

Metrics are toxic – Teams will make their metrics but miss the goal

No one wants to admit that their carefully crafted metrics damage their company or, even worse than the “Recommended” metrics from [insert framework or organisations here], are undermining the very things they are supposed to deliver. To explain, ask yourself (and comment below), does your organisation chase its metrics? The purpose of metrics is to measure the successful execution of the process; however, it is always possible to meet your metrics without following your process. A classic often seen in the real world is the chasing of SLA’s. Our teams will do everything they can to avoid an SLA breach, but once something has breached, does the priority drop as completing it now will harm the team! So we leave breached items until we are forced to deal with them or until the start of a new cycle when we have a chance to “balance the books” as it were.

Whoever agreed on the metric and implemented it no doubt had the best of intentions. Of course, the people working like this are following the example set to them back their colleagues and lower management levels. However, the problem is that the metric has become the goal rather than a proof of “good” execution. So how does Data Literacy help with this? The answer is simple Data Literacy mandates that EVERYONE has access to the packs and is allowed to make recommendations or suggestions. Are our SLA’s unachievable, or is there something else that is misaligned that adds to the pressure in a key area that leads to ethical fades? It is fundamentally unethical to pursue the metrics as we should be chasing the perfection of process execution.

For example, in the past, I have had numerous conversations about Password Resets and how important/critical they should be, adding how we can make them properly secure to protect the organisation. I have worked with many organisation that felt these were absolutely business-critical and should be treated with the same laser focus as a major outage. I have known businesses adopt the “Well, why didn’t you register with the self-service tools” mentality and almost inject some customer pain into the situation (these are deliberately extreme). What is your view, and how should we build the execution steps to them evaluate the SLA? In the first company where Password Resets need to be done within an hour, what happens if you set up a challenge/response style of user validation to get a password reset. The customer fails, is the fall-back position to seek written (email) approval from the person’s line manager to reset the password? How realistic is it to achieve that and get written confirmation within an hour? In our other company to put pressure on the teams responsible for doing the password resets customers will exaggerate the importance of their need, to get a quicker response “I need to have this done for [insert Senior Management name here] in the next hour and I am unable to because your system has locked me out”. Both options have led to ethical lapses. Answers below again, how would you best tackle your password reset process and success/failure reporting?

Once everyone is involved and the metrics are transparent, these lapses in ethics become apparent quickly. As humans are fundamentally ethical, we can only correct these issues by making them accountable through data literacy. If everyone understands what is being reported up and why they can more readily get involved in helping prevent people from being put in a position where they feel they have to act unethically. If you start to take your metrics and present them to the whole business and request feedback, you will find that your business challenges are surfaced and can then be addressed.


Business Transformation through transparency is incredibly painful for many of those involved. They have to give up many of the controls they have previously relied on to enforce their ways but remember the illusion of control that is provided may reap short term benefits. If you want your business to exist in terms beyond this Quarter or the next Quarter, you need to stop and think about how we can continue to grow and develop our processes. The excuse that you shouldn’t burden those junior to you with the realities of their business is a falsehood.

In 1950’s Japan, a radical concept evolved – Kaizen Principals – these went on to become the foundation of the Agile Methodology, but at the base level of both is the idea that small changes will gradually improve an organisations processes. These small changes do not always directly make things better, in fact. It is expected that a number of them will turn out to be based on a flawed assumption or incomplete data, so you need to stop and mark that as an invalid option rapidly; this “failure” is still seen as a success because more information is now known about the process and the real drivers of it. A traditional business chasing the metrics will be more likely to see failure as a failure and seek to blame and punish instead of acknowledging and moving forward.

Data Literacy shines a light on your data and makes everyone aware of what the metrics are supposed to be driving. You can then empower them to support the process better and evolve your success criteria.

Trust is a two way street, trust your employees and show them they can trust you. Data Literacy will provide that common vocabulary.

Ross – Director of Business Intelligence

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