Many people are breathing a sigh of relief that 2020 is finally over. I’m hopeful that on a global scale, 2021 can eventually help us move on from the pandemic and from political turmoil to shape kinder societies where economic interests and citizens’ wellbeing are in balance. Data is and will continue to be critical to this. 

As we kick off this new year with the usual mix of aspiration and expectation, I want to share five areas that organizations should focus on to build skills, gain a greater understanding and empower the people they work with. 

Data democratization is a top priority

Last year we witnessed countless collaborations in the scientific community to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, built on data and knowledge alongside experience and expertise. This should inspire organizations to put data democratization at the top of their priority list for 2021.

Much like the scientific community, there is a lot of untapped potential among employees. Are they all data experts? Probably not. But by giving them access to data and easy-to-use tools to interrogate the data, organizations can bring out their collective wisdom and uncover insights to help them make better, data-driven decisions. 

Our latest research also suggests that the organizations that have increased the number of people involved in decision-making are twice as likely to see a speed improvement. This kind of democratized decision-making can truly empower organizations, helping them to adapt to change faster.

This will certainly require the support of the right infrastructure and systems – in addition to effective data governance. For organizations that want to succeed in these challenging economic circumstances, the times of data silos, departmental thinking, and political in-fighting around data must come to an end. Access to data must be opened up to all employees.

Build data literacy within organizations

To ensure successful data democratization and extract the maximum value from an organization’s investment in data and analytics, data literacy should no longer be ignored. We wouldn’t let people drive cars without passing a test. So, let’s exercise some caution to ensure employees have the necessary training and understanding of data, analysis, and foundational statistical knowledge before reaching conclusions from their data. 

Building data literacy within an organization will require resources and a structure for ongoing training and development. Upskilling employees and ensuring their knowledge is current should be at the top of the agenda if businesses want to remain competitive.

This is critical, especially when you want to use an employee’s analysis and the resulting insights as the basis for making business decisions. 

On a positive note, it’s good to see that, according to our research, 85% of organizations have reported taking action to improve data literacy levels within their business as this will help them build skills among their staff that is important during crisis recovery and beyond.

Take data ethics seriously 

We often read and hear that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will deliver significant advances in automation and replace jobs in many industries. And while this is certainly a possibility, there are still humans behind the algorithms. And humans carry biases – we all do – so there’s a chance that biases are introduced into the algorithms we are exposed to on a daily basis. 

It’s important that organizations and the people within them consider their own role when it comes to data ethics. Are numbers being made to look good through clever analysis, wording, or visualization? Is some data left out deliberately from analysis to avoid scrutiny? Data ethics starts with seemingly innocent, small situations, but it concerns all of us.

organizations must kick-start and increase conversations around data ethics to ensure that they don’t end up in a much more difficult place from a moral standpoint later down the line. Acting now is better than waiting. 

Build an effective data culture 

Implementing changes, driving new initiatives, and bringing greater access to data in every part of the business is much easier when you have a culture that values and understands the data. 

Building an effective data culture is a great goal that organizations can set themselves in 2021 – start with small, tangible steps and activities to get people involved and bought into the idea. 

organizations that have data champions in place internally have already made the first step. Empower these people to develop ideas for bringing employees together around the topic of data and analytics. Let them create activities that everyone can get involved in – using them to help organizations build a data literate workforce along the way. 

Tackle your tool stack 

No discussion about data would be complete without technology. Many organizations were able to use the challenges of 2020 to assess their analytics and data tools in an effort to consolidate and innovate with limited resources. Finding smarter ways to work with data and identifying the most effective solutions will set organizations up for ongoing success and maximum return on your analytics investment. 

As they review the tools they currently have in-house, they should ask themselves, how effective are they in delivering results? Are they used for the right purpose, or are there more suitable alternatives? 

Don’t shy away from shaking old legacy foundations to see if they still deliver value. Work closely with vendors to ensure what they offer is what you want and need and whether it works in harmony with the other tools in your stack. 

Looking ahead

By no means are these five data resolutions trivial – they are great considerations to help make 2021 a year that matters to organizations across a number of industries. If we can learn one thing to help us in 2021, it’s that we now have both the technology and human ingenuity in place to cope with unexpected crises and use data to build a better future.

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