Data wants to be free

In a world where data is more readily available than ever, having analytical skills that will help you to make sense of data in day-to-day tasks is instrumental in career progression.

But going by a recent survey conducted by Qlik, a data analytics software provider, only 20% of employees in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region are confident in their data literacy skills, that is, the ability to read, work with and analyse data.

Diving deeper into the study, some 49% admitted to feeling overwhelmed when reading, working with, analysing and challenging data, while 81% of workers don’t think they have adequate training to be data literate.

Not surprisingly, most full-time workers (72%) said they would be willing to invest more time and energy in improving their data literacy skills, if given the chance.

While the overall numbers are worrying, workers in some countries fared better than others. India appears to be the most data-literate nation, where 45% of respondents said they were confident with data.

Business leaders including C-level executives and directors in India (64%), Australia (39%) and Singapore (31%) were also most confident about their data literacy levels.

At the other end of the spectrum was Japan, where just 6% of workers classified themselves as data literate.

One of the reasons for this disparity lies in access to data, according to Paul Mclean, Qlik’s data literacy evangelist in APAC.

For example in APAC, on average 59% of junior level employees said they have sufficient access to data. Comparatively, 82% of senior managers and 85% of directors in APAC have sufficient access to data.

Looking at a country perspective, 88% of Indian workers believed they have all the data sets they need to perform their jobs to the highest possible standard – which is higher compared to other countries in APAC.

The numbers were lower in Australia (60%) and Japan (28%). This inequality is holding people and businesses back.

Employees can only become data literate if they can access data and integrate it into their everyday work lives – basically learning by doing, Mclean said, calling for organisations to level the playing field and empower every employee, across every level of the organisation, the right to use and access data for their respective roles.

But why aren’t employees getting access to all the information they need to do their jobs well? Part of this could be – rightly or wrongly – concerns over employees misusing sensitive information, as well as knowledge hoarding practices that give managers a false sense of superiority over their colleagues.

These managers may think that such practices will offer job security, but the opposite is true. They can be easily replaced or moved to another position, if an enlightened management that sees the benefits of information access can’t force them to release the data they’re hoarding to others.

For a deeper discussion on why information – and data for that matter – wants to be free, check out this seminal work by Professor Polk Wagner where he talks about intellectual property and the mythologies of control.

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