Double-clicking on data literacy with Tableau's chief data officer

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur9/29/2022 05:00 PM GMT+08  • 6 min read
Double-clicking on data literacy with Tableau's chief data officer
Most firms in Singapore deem data literacy as a basic skill but they aren't doing enough to develop a data-literate workforce. Photo: Unsplash
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Data skills and literacy are becoming increasingly crucial. Most (91%) decision-makers in Singapore expect basic data literacy from employees in every department — including product, IT, HR and operations. Two-thirds of employees in the city-state also expect to use data heavily in their job by 2025, according to Tableau’s study titled Building Data Literacy: The Key To Better Decisions, Greater Productivity, And Data-Driven Organisations.

While business leaders and employees agree that data skills are increasingly essential to understand and act on the vast amounts of data their organisations produce, that awareness does not translate to investments in data skilling.

Only 35% of the surveyed Singapore employees believe their organisation has equipped them with the data skills they need. This could be because less than a third (28%) of organisations in the country make data training available to all employees.

DigitalEdge speaks to Wendy Turner-Williams, chief data officer at visual analytics platform provider Tableau, to find out how organisations in Singapore can improve their workforce’s data literacy levels to thrive in a data-driven economy.

Given the wide availability of data analytics tools today, why are organisations in Singapore still struggling with data literacy?

Data analytics is complex and has a lot of steps – from data capture to curation to acquisition to getting insights from predictive models. So I think many companies are struggling to understand what it means to have a data culture and find out how to have a data-literate workforce.

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The reality is that there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to solving this. It depends on what the company does, its organisational culture, and the scale of that problem because the business impact of not having a data-literate workforce differs from one organisation to another.

Also, it takes investment and a long-term commitment to cultivate a data-literate workforce and a data-driven culture. These can’t be achieved overnight.

Although there isn’t a one-size-fits all strategy, what should companies in Singapore look at to improve their workforce’s data literacy levels?

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Organisations in Singapore should first develop a good data strategy that includes people, process, technology, culture and data literacy. Most people think data strategy is just a technical strategy. The reality is that you can invest in technology all day long, but if you don’t train your workforce and educate them on how the data produced by those technologies ties to your business strategy, you won’t get the value from that investment.

Also, organisations need to understand that a data strategy is not one and done – instead, it is a continuous process. There’s always a technology that causes shifts in a business strategy or compliance requirements related to data. Organisations have to therefore build a culture and data literacy programme that can enable them to address those changes effectively

Since the chief data officer role (CDO) is relatively new, please tell me more about your role.

My job consists of a couple of things. Firstly, I’m a customer zero. I use Tableau and CRM Analytics as products, and I support our business teams in using the CRM (customer relationship management) information to help drive our business.

So I’m similar to our customers that are trying to drive the business with high-value data that’s available and democratised to all, but it’s also trusted. I spend a lot of time as customer zero educating our product team around end-to-end data usage, data processes and data design to help ensure our products deliver a good customer experience.

I’m also tasked to help Tableau maintain its focus on data culture. We first use a third party to baseline us against an industry standard for data management maturity.

After which, I set targets for each business team and figure out who is doing well and who is lagging. This information is then used to create a data literacy framework and shape the programmes to train our employees with the right data skills.

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Additionally, I’m responsible for making sure our data is democratised. We need to know what data exists, the source of truth, and the common terms, definitions, and aggregations to ensure that we’re not recreating the wheel repeatedly and that we’re using quality and certified data to make our decisions.

I also ensure our data strategy aligns with and supports our business strategy. I look at where we are and the areas we’re trying to grow (in terms of products or industries), the utilisation of our features, and ways to improve our customer experience and net promoter score, among others.

Can you share more about your efforts to equip Tableau’s employees with data literacy skills, which could serve as an inspiration to other companies?

We did a lot of industry research on data culture and literacy, best practices, metrics, and general frameworks to implement. And we’re using that framework to define our overall strategy and start building the people and processes aspects of a programme. In other words, we’ve stood up a data culture and literacy working group that crosses different organisations.

We also did an internal assessment to identify our data literacy gaps. We basically assessed our employees to determine if our training programme should first equip them with business knowledge or know-how on using specific tools.

Then we took an enablement approach and launched new types of content. For instance, we’re ensuring that all our employees are Tableau-certified. We’re working with two business units to create a business process curriculum and system information. This will allow us to teach our people what it takes to run our business – from a quote to a deal to a contract renewal process – so they understand the data flow and the systems supporting it.

We’re also offering content for different personas (such as business professionals, tech professionals or data professionals) and at different maturity.

While some skills will be crucial for all levels and roles, the internal courses or training for a data professional who’s a fresh grad, for example, will differ from those offered to a senior engineer. Just like college, we’re trying to put together something where you got an undergrad versus the graduate versus a PhD level. The ultimate aim is to ensure that our data literacy curriculum can support continuous learning.

When more employees become data literate in the future, what then will be the role of CDOs?

CDOs are like the rockstars of digital transformation at any company. They not only understand data technology, but also know how to re-use, amplify and enrich data pumping through data technology to drive innovations and business strategies. They also do so in a trusted way so that the organisation meets compliance, regulatory or security requirements.

To me, these capabilities are essential to any business intending to grow and continue to exist as we move further in this digital area. You can’t take just a business or technical strategy in isolation and not have a data piece go across them if you want to bring your goals to fruition.

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