Michael Brennan|October 21, 2021

In advance of the first Profusion Data Academy Business Leaders cohort we ran our proprietary data literacy test as a survey reaching 300 senior business professionals from multiple industry sectors.

The results – including a mean score of 34% – validate the rationale for the Profusion Data Academy.

There is an urgent need for businesses to improve their data literacy from top to bottom if they are to use the untapped power of data to grow their businesses.

There is no doubt that the Profusion data literacy test is a challenge (although we did also see high scores above 70%) as reflected in participant feedback:

“Real brain teaser”

“quite mind-blowing”

 “very informative”

“very interesting and challenging”

“ I learnt something new”

“thought-provoking”

The data literacy test includes 50 questions across eight distinct sections:

  • Statistics
  • Data Quality
  • Data Roles
  • Data Projects
  • Databases
  • Charts
  • Data Protection
  • Glossary of terms

For most participants the statistical section will be the most challenging, after all this is a specialised academic discipline, but also one that provides the essential foundation for all data analytics and data science projects and outputs, and one that links very directly to the charts section later in the test.

The test concludes by testing knowledge of data related terminology. This is critical for Business Leaders to have a handle on. If we are to truly democratise data within and across organisations then we need to establish a common language. A common language is a profoundly unifying force, the alternative is a private language (aka jargon) restricted to data specialists, which will only lead to the marginalisation of data initiatives.

To realise the potential and value of data to optimise business performance and operations, data initiatives and programmes need to be fully integrated with all aspects of the business strategy, and so clearly understood by all business stakeholders. This perspective is central to our approach to the Data Academy – empowering all business stakeholders with a foundational understanding of data.

Additional Insights

When we look more closely at our benchmarking data there are some interesting insights arising:

  • Chief Executives underperform relative to MDs and their leadership and management peers
  • Directors scored highest overall relative to CEOs, MDs, Exec Leaders and Senior Managers
  • Medium size businesses underperform relative to small businesses and enterprises
  • Operational leaders and managers outperform their office (Finance, HR, Marketing etc.) peers
  • Retail leaders underperform relative to other industrial segments

Of Charts and Business Intelligence

Interestingly the Charts section was the one area where Executive Leaders and CEOs outperformed their peers, suggesting that Business Intelligence solutions are both pervasive and having a positive impact on the ability to interpret and to interrogate data, both vital ingredients for quick and effective data informed decision making.

The Squeezed Middle

There is an interesting suggestion within the study findings that it is medium sized organisations who face the biggest challenges with data literacy. Our hypothesis is that they are caught between the two extremes of small and start-up business passion and enterprise training resources. This is a critical constituency for UK PLC and one that we can’t afford to leave behind on our data journey.

Age is no guide to Data Literacy

The stand-out, counter-intuitive, finding from our research was that respondents aged 45+ outperformed those aged under 45, with the 45-54 cohort the highest performers overall.

This finding may well challenge organisational assumptions as to where they need to focus their investments in data literacy. It is however entirely consistent with the performance of the Senior Managers in our survey and suggests that there is something of a disconnect between Directors and their team leaders – the very people we need to have on-board if we’re going to align their direct reports with our data transformation agenda.

In terms of age it is too easy to assume that just because younger people are Digital Natives and will have grown up immersed in digital media they will naturally be data literate and have a good understanding of how digital platforms and services work. The simple fact is that this is a false assumption – there is a huge difference between being an experienced service user and a capable service designer. For every 100 gamers there may only be a handful of coders and a similar number that are data literate.

At the older end of the spectrum, the Digital Adopters, you might argue that we (yep, this includes me) have long been aware of the gulf between our foundational experiences and the demands of the digital world. As such we have taken the time and made the effort to update our skills and understanding, in the hope that this might secure our working futures in this fast changing industry.

The Retail frontline

To pick out one other finding from the research, the under-performance of retail respondents in the benchmarking study was both notable and alarming. Alarming because retail has long been in the frontline of data driven digital disruption, including the rise of both ecommerce and DTC commerce. Notable because retail respondents under-performed the mean score by circa 20%.

If retail business leaders are struggling with data literacy then they aren’t going to be well placed to lead the transformative changes required for survival and success in these cut-throat industries.

In conclusion

This was a fascinating study.  One that provides Profusion with great collateral to underpin our exciting plans for the Data Academy. Most importantly we hope it acts as a call to arms for organisations of all sizes and types. Whatever the short-term dynamics of the labour market, we know that the only way to raise real incomes is to improve the UK’s dire record on productivity.

Some people refer to the UK experiencing a Data Skills Emergency, highlighting the inefficiencies and time lost due to poor data skills. This benchmarking study quantifies and pinpoints exactly where the gaps in knowledge are most profound, making it an essential tool in any organisation’s data literacy tool kit.

For further information on the Profusion Data Academy please contact Profusion via hello@profusion.com

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