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Digital transformation is becoming increasingly important for companies and among the list of skills needed to ensure this succeeds is data analytics. According to Hays Asia's 2022 Salary Guide, companies in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, for example, all seek individuals with experience in data analytics and automation. Hence, it is even more important for employees to upskill and be confident about their data literacy skills.
A recent Qlik study titled "Data Literacy: The Upskilling Evolution" found that C-level executives currently prioritise data literacy training for these working in specific data-related roles, such as data analysts or data scientists (58%), followed by product development and research and development teams (34%), and directors (32%). Interestingly, at the lower end of the investment priority spectrum are HR and people teams (12%), customer service teams (13%), finance teams (11%), marketing (10%) and sales teams (9%).
This is despite about two-thirds of employees working in these functions stating that data literacy is already necessary to fulfil their current role. That said, 85% of C-level executives believe being data-literate will be as vital in the future as the ability to use a computer is today. The majority of C-level executives (89%) expect their team members to be able to explain how data has informed their decisions. However, they overestimate the level of data literacy across their workforce, thinking that 55% of employees are confident in their data literacy skills.
In reality, only 11% of employees are fully confident in their ability to read, analyse, work with, and communicate with data, and 31% are somewhat confident and working towards developing this skillset.
Meanwhile, 62% of employees recognise that data literacy is necessary to fulfil their current job role. There is also a major disparity between employees' and enterprise leaders' beliefs about whose responsibility it is to prepare workforces with skills for the future workplace. Among employees, 59% want their employers to offer training to improve their data literacy.
On the contrary, most C-suite believe that it is the onus of the individual to upskill themselves. Elif Tutuk, VP of innovation and design at Qlik, said there is always plenty of talk about employees having to understand how AI will change how they complete their role, but more importantly, businesses need to be helping them develop the skills that enable them to add value to the output of these intelligent algorithms.
"Data literacy will be critical in extending workplace collaboration beyond human-to-human engagements, to employees augmenting machine intelligence with creativity and critical thinking," Tutuk said.
Andrew Yeoh, TIME dotCom's head of marketing, is one marketer taking the lead on this area by investing in external training and upskilling for his team with key platforms such as Google, Meta, TikTok and SEO. He is also investing in adtech and martech solutions, data visualisation, CRM, and CDP. "One of the key tenets of our team charter and ethos is: 'In God we trust. For everything else, bring data."
Overall, while TIME dotCom's employees are well on their way to being data literate, Yeoh said, adding there is still a long way to go. "I believe that data is the great equaliser, it allows every individual and team member to have a seat at the table and contribute value. Data helps level the playing field. Rather than defaulting to the one with the loudest voice or biggest paycheck always winning arguments and making decisions," he explained.
Meanwhile, there are also companies that have no doubt taken off with their data literacy efforts. Stephanie Caunter, head of customer strategy and marketing at AIA Malaysia said the team is "above average in terms of data literacy". As an insurance company, it is no doubt that the team lives and breathes data, from daily and weekly financial reports and automated dashboards to frequent reviews. That said, there is definitely still room for improvement.
Caunter encourages her team to improve their business acumen and understand the business drivers, which they can only do by talking to their colleagues and paying attention to business updates. "I also try to role model by getting my hands dirty in terms of manipulating the data, or pulling the insights together," she added.
Interestingly, C-level executives also reported that they would offer a salary increase for candidates that could demonstrate their data literacy.
In the US, for example, the average salary increase for demonstratable data literacy could put up to US$11,000 extra into employees' pockets annually, based on the average yearly salary of US$56,310 as recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Australia, the salary would be about US$17.6k. Qlik does not have salary statistics for Southeast Asia.
Gut feel still triumphs data
The debate about gut feel and data is an ongoing one in the marketing and advertising scene. Industry players have long argued that while data is crucial in informing marketing teams of insights and the next steps to take, gut feel is still an important and irreplaceable factor.
In the past year alone, employees’ use of data and its importance in decision-making has doubled. Of those employees who reported an increase in data use, Qlik's study found that 55% said this included reading data and making decisions using data; 54% said it involved interpreting data, and 59% reported overseeing and managing the outputs of automated systems.
Despite this, in general, Qlik found that 46% of employees frequently make decisions based on gut feeling, rather than data-led insights, and the same percentage don't always trust that the data available to inform their decisions is up to date and accurate. Similarly for C-suite executives, while 52% of them are fully confident in their data literacy skills, 45% say they frequently make decisions based on gut feeling rather than data-led insights. According to Qlik, this number is "concerning". Also, 42% don't always trust that the data available to inform their decisions is up to date and accurate.
Industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to had varying opinions in this area. Carsome Group CMO, Ravi Shankar, said in the era of data overload, "none of the decisions must be taken by gut feeling".
There is no such thing as a bad decision with data, it's the analysis that went wrong, the result is also data. But nothing comes out of a decision that was a gut feeling.
Similarly, TIME dotCom's Yeoh said at the core of it, gut feel is based on data and accurate feedback informed by past experiences. "Data should always complement and augment gut feel. If the data is contrary to what your gut feel is, then you should be open to learning, unlearning and relearning," Yeoh said.
Gut feel may be great for making decisions, but according to Yeoh, one still needs data to align, rationalise and get buy-in for their decisions, especially at senior levels.
Trying to convince your board to trust you purely on gut feel is likely to be an exercise in futility and frustration.
AIA Malaysia's Caunter also believes that when people say they are relying on their gut, it's really is years of real life work and experience that is coming to the fore, and that is extremely crucial. "Without that experience to guide you, you actually could either ignore the data or worse still interpret the data in ways that lead you astray, or are meaningless," she said.
However, one still has to strike a balance in decision making; do you trust the data over your gut or vice versa? Caunter explained that often, when when senior executives choose to ignore what the data is telling them, it’s likely because of very personal experience that flies against the data.
"This experience is naturally valid but as we continue to advance in the world of data and machine learning, all of us have to get comfortable with trusting that AI will be able to do a far better job at crunching millions of data points over even the richest human experience and brain," she explained.
On the topic of experience, Geneco's head of marketing, Alex Chan, said to helps balance and bring out the best of both approaches. With learnings from past campaigns, Chan said he was able to get what he wants out of the data that he has and once it is aligned with his gut feel, he can make a sound decision quicker for the team to go-to-market.
"We should always remember data guides decisions, not make them. We should source, sort and story tell data, taking it as one the key approaches in making a decision but not viewing it as a be-all and end-all," he added.
Also weighing in on this issue was Etiqa Singapore's CMO Shirley Tan, who also believes in the balancing act. According to her, digital marketing has enabled marketers to run campaigns and ads in a more targeted way using campaign management, allowing for testing, tweaking and optimising campaigns for smarter decision-making. She added that this would not have been possible in the absence of data and technological advancements.
However, intuition resulting from experience and accumulated knowledge may indicate that campaigns might work better in another way. "More than technology, marketing has a psychological element. Our gut feel, knowledge and understanding of how humans behave or change their behaviour when influenced by social/environmental factors are essential to successful marketing," she explained.
Photo courtesy: 123RF
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