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Data Literacy Project research finds UK workers putting off data work

Research from Qlik and Accenture finds a big majority of UK workers lack the data literacy skills and confidence to capture business value from data

UK workers lack the data literacy skills necessary to get long-promised business value from data.

Research conducted by Opinium on behalf of business intelligence (BI) software supplier Qlik and consultancy Accenture has found that employees spend at least one hour a week procrastinating over data-related tasks, racking up billions in lost productivity per year. For the US, the researchers estimated the productivity loss as $109.4bn annually.

In the research report, entitled Human impact of data literacy, under the aegis of The Data Literacy Project, which was set up by Qlik in 2018 and has since gained the involvement of Accenture and Cognizant, it is stated that only 37% of respondents trust decisions more when based on data.

James Fisher, chief product officer at Qlik, picked out this statistic as especially salutary, in an interview with Computer Weekly.

“Everyone says they appreciate the value of data in business, but we still run into employee non-adoption,” he said. “In the broader area of data literacy, which is not just statistical knowledge, people lack confidence when confronted with data. It’s a psychological barrier. The research confirms that around one-third of people feel overwhelmed, and so they procrastinate. Data literacy is where literacy was 100 years ago.”

The research, embodied in the report published in January 2020, was conducted among 9,000 full-time workers in organisations with more than 50 employees in nine countries across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region in September 2019. The UK, Germany and France were in the European contingent.

Fisher said that while the UK might be considered behind Singapore when it comes to data literacy skills, the picture is much the same across the board in advanced western countries.

The report revealed that only 10% of UK workers said mainstream education had prepared them to work with data. The figure for the US was 17%, and for Japan 19%.

Research shows just 17% of UK workers are confident in their data literacy skills and 67% of UK workers report feeling overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data

“There is also more to data literacy than statistical understanding,” said Fisher.

Qlik itself is promoting a new service offering it calls Data Literacy Consulting Service and Signature Services, which it said is designed to help organisations adopt a “data literacy-as-a-service approach to creating a data-driven culture”.

“This is not about training in a technology,” said Fisher. “We see a lot of hijacking of the term ‘data literacy’. For us, this is not about using a product. It’s more about reading, analysing and arguing about data.

“Around the globe, organisations consistently tell us they believe data literacy is essential to their ability to scale data-driven decision-making and increase value from data. What they are struggling with is how to best blend the people, process and technology elements necessary for a culture to become truly data-informed.”

The Qlik and Accenture-sponsored research found that just 17% of UK workers are confident in their data literacy skills, and that 67% of UK workers report feeling overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data. The global figure was 74%.

This unhappiness has created a culture of data overload in many businesses, which nearly half (47%) report has contributed to workplace stress. One-fifth (21%) of UK employees waste at least an hour a week procrastinating over data-related tasks.

The report stated: “Accounting for data-induced procrastination and sick leave due to stress resulting from information, data and technology issues, companies lose an average of more than five working days – 43 hours per employee – each year.”

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