Does Your Business Speak Data? An Argument for Data Literacy

In our super-connected world, data is everywhere, influencing every choice, interaction, and experience we have each day. Simply having data isn’t a bragging right anymore – it’s table stakes. The real game-changer for a modern company is its knack for turning that raw data into a goldmine of insights. Think of your data as the raw material of business smarts – without the chops to refine it, you’re stuck with a treasure trove of “could-be’s.”

This is where mastering data literacy sets you apart. Cultivating an environment where data literacy thrives not only puts you ahead in the innovation race, but also sets you up for strategic and competitive wins. Competent, self-service data users drive smarter decisions, more efficient operations, and faster laps around your competition – yet, it’s something that so many organizations overlook. This is often true for teams in highly regulated industries like financial services and healthcare, which have a long-standing dedication to protecting sensitive data that can limit their capacity to achieve data-driven insights.  Why leave this kind of power untapped?

In this blog, we’ll explore the concept of data literacy, why it’s a crucial partner to technological innovation, and how you can make it a key part of your team’s success.

So, What’s Data Literacy?

Data literacy means being fluent in data-speak. It’s the ability to read, comprehend, and communicate information from data effectively and coherently, turning information clutter into clear insights that fuel business actions.

This skill mix includes reading and analyzing data, understanding the gist of data visualizations, crunching numbers, pulling out actionable insights, and sharing what you find in a manner that everyone can understand. While the basics of data literacy are pretty standard, your company might have its own specific data lingo, which is great – as long as everyone is speaking the same language.

A data-literate organization is one where everyone – from governance teams, to data users, to executive leadership – can comfortably read, understand, and discuss data insights.

Why You Should Care About Data Literacy

Data literacy isn’t just another corporate buzzword – it’s a business superpower in today’s hyper-connected world. With over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry, I’ve found that embracing data literacy can transform your business into a data-powered machine. It does so by enabling you to:

  • Make Smarter Decisions: Basing your strategy not on gut feelings but on solid, data-driven insights significantly reduces risks, amps up confidence in your decisions, and leads to outcomes you can predict and plan for. It’s like having a roadmap in a territory filled with unknowns. Within the financial services industry, for example, this can be the key to capturing the customer and engaging them with “delighters,” as well as maintaining regulatory compliance around GDPR, CCPA, PCI DSS, and other compliance laws and regulations.
  • Boost Efficiency: A data-literate team can spot and smooth out the kinks in your processes, fine-tune resource allocation, and turn your operations into a well-oiled machine. It’s all about working smarter, not harder. In financial services, this translates to streamlined operations, reduced overhead costs, and improved service delivery – ultimately leading to better customer satisfaction.
  • Get Inside Your Customers’ Heads: Enable your teams to dive deep into customer data to really understand what drives their decisions. This isn’t just about selling, it’s about creating experiences that resonate deeply, fostering loyalty that lasts and boosting your customers’ lifetime value. For financial institutions, this means more targeted financial products, personalized advice, and enhanced customer relationships.
  • Spot Trouble Before It Spots You: Use data to catch potential risks and issues before they blow up. Whether it’s a hiccup in your supply chain, a looming market threat, or a dip in customer satisfaction, data provides your teams with an early warning system. In financial services, this could mean anticipating market fluctuations, identifying fraudulent activities, or managing compliance risks effectively – before they can snowball into penalties, reputational damage, or other bad outcomes.
  • Innovate and Lead the Market: Data-literate companies don’t just keep up, they set the pace. With the power to test new ideas, validate hypotheses, and explore uncharted territory, your company can lead the charge in innovation among your competitors and peers. In the financial sector, this is crucial for developing new financial products, services, and digital banking solutions that meet evolving customer needs.
  • Empower Individuals, Transform Communities: Data literacy empowers you not just as a professional, but as an individual – enabling you to make better decisions and engage more critically with the data-based world around you. Relative to financial services, this translates to better financial literacy and decision-making when it comes to budgeting, investing, and general money management, fostering a more financially inclusive community.

Embracing data literacy means setting your business up for success and making sure it’s ready to thrive in a data-driven future. Now that you understand why data literacy is critical for businesses, what does your team need to start fostering it?

Data Literacy Prerequisites

In order to begin building data literacy, there are a handful of prerequisite capabilities and practices your team should have in place. These include:

Knowing Your Data Sources and Types

Get the lowdown on where your data comes from, how it flows, and its various forms — numbers, text, images, you name it. A company-wide reference glossary or data catalog is a major plus. Consistent data discovery, tagging, and classification are necessary to build a complete, at-a-glance understanding of your data.

Aligning Data Analysis

Enable all of your data users to tap into basic math, stats, and cool visualization tools to spot trends and patterns. Make sure everyone’s analysis aligns with what the company expects, and foster alignment by hosting training sessions on how to analyze data the company way. This requires your organization to invest in that training – more on this later.

Thinking Critically About Results

Ensure your users use critical thinking to put their findings into perspective and grasp what they might mean. This may include standard questions, such as:

  • Are the results aligning with what the company predicted?
  • How can you tell if they’re accurate?
  • What expectations did you have before you got these results?

By recognizing trends and patterns through data analysis, your team will be able to spot opportunities that others might miss.

Easily Communicating Findings

Effective communication is at the heart of data literacy. Make sure your users talk about insights in plain, simple language. Remember, not everyone is a data whiz, so keep it straightforward. Use visuals or stories that stick, like analogies of common experiences – for example, it’s easier to understand insights in the context of visiting the grocery store or pumping gas than in the lofty terms you’d need an MBA to understand. It’s about turning complex data into clear, compelling narratives that inspire action and drive change across your organization. Data-literate individuals can better articulate complex data insights, fostering greater collaboration and strategic alignment.

Maintaining User Curiosity

Data literacy sparks a mindset of curiosity. It’s about digging deeper and not taking things at face value, unlocking a more sophisticated understanding of your business dynamics and customer journey. This enhances critical thinking, enabling your team to challenge assumptions, weigh evidence, and make decisions grounded in reality.

How to Make Your Company Data Literate

Now you’ve learned about the what, why, and prerequisites of data literacy, you may be asking “how do I get my company over the data literacy hump?” Here are few tips that have moved the needle in my experience:

Focus on Practical Application Over Theory

Start by solving real problems! Use actual challenges your company faces as case studies in training sessions, not high-level hypotheticals. Show your teams how data can unravel complex issues and streamline processes – nothing gets better buy-in than when you solve an actual issue instead of talking in theoretics.

Implement Role-Specific Training

Data literacy is not one-size-fits-all. To get the most bang for your buck, you need to tailor training sessions to the specific needs of different departments. Examples might include:

  • Marketing: Focus on mastering data analytics tools and A/B testing.
  • Finance: Focus on advanced Excel training and financial modeling.
  • Executive Leadership: Focus on interpreting dashboards and tracking KPIs effectively.

Pitch Appropriately for Different Audiences

You need to tailor your message about the importance and utility of data literacy to resonate with various user types and levels within your organization.

  • C-Suite: Emphasize strategic advantages and ROI.
  • Senior Management: Highlight efficiencies and improvements in decision-making processes.
  • Middle Management: Show how data literacy improves their performance in executing and innovating.
  • Individual Contributors: Focus on how data literacy simplifies daily tasks and enhances their career trajectory.

Start with the benefits of data literacy, not the technicalities. Show how it makes users’ jobs easier, uncovers hidden issues, and helps achieve targets more efficiently. Use storytelling to illustrate real-world success stories where data literacy has made a tangible difference.

Dear Companies: Invest in Data Literacy

Across all industries, companies have effectively invested in data-driven cultures. Those cultures require – you guessed it – data-literate workforces in order to operate. My plea to leaders reading this is to invest in your data literacy program. Whether your data is stored on-premises, in the cloud, or in a hybrid setup, investing in literacy will empower your users and strengthen agile data use. To drive investment in data literacy, you need to:

  • Develop a Clear Strategy: Outline your goals, objectives, and timelines for enhancing data literacy within your company. Include specific milestones and key activities.
  • Allocate Necessary Resources: Ensure there are adequate resources for budgeting, personnel, and technology dedicated to fostering data literacy.
  • Measure Impact: Set up KPIs to track the effectiveness of your data literacy programs, like improvements in decision-making, productivity boosts, and professional growth.
  • Integrate Data Literacy into Culture and Development: Incorporate data literacy training into the platforms your employees are already using, such as your Learning Management System (LMS), and make it a standard part of onboarding and personal development processes.

This is going to take time – don’t get frustrated and give up within a few months if you don’t see results right away. You’re likely changing years or decades worth of mindsets. Expecting overnight success is like expecting to turn a cruise ship on a dime. Making this a long-term investment, however, is sure to pay off.


Data literacy isn’t just another skill to add to your LinkedIn profile – it’s the must-have superpower for navigating today’s data-driven landscape across industries, including financial services. Through ongoing education, hands-on training, and a culture that thrives on curiosity rather than hesitancy, you can use it to unlock a range of data-fueled possibilities, from improved customer retention to a better bottom line.

To learn more about how to empower your data-literate teams with secure, efficient data access, get in touch with the Immuta team.

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