Apr 21 2023
Data Analytics

Why Data Literacy Is a Core Capability for Federal Agencies

The public measures agencies to industry standards, so they must invest in data analysis, visualization and interpretation skills to remain competitive.

Data has become an essential part of corporate operations, and with the rise of Big Data, organizations are generating and accumulating massive amounts of data every day.

The ability to manage, analyze and extract insights from this data is critical for making informed decisions and gaining a competitive edge. This is where data literacy comes in.

Data literacy is the ability to read, understand, create and communicate data as information. It involves a range of skills, including data analysis, data visualization and data interpretation.

For technology professionals, data literacy is essential to effectively working with data, extracting insights and making data-driven decisions.

However, data literacy is not just for individuals. It also is an essential organizational capability.

In today’s data-driven world, where federal organizations are measured to the standards of private enterprise, investing in data literacy skills is essential to maintain a competitive edge.

DISCOVER: How Commvault Technology can help your agency manage its data.

Understanding Data Flows, Access and Security

Richard Breakiron, senior director of strategic initiatives for Americas public sector at Commvault, says the most important thing an organization can do is recognize the role that data insight dashboards and collaborative tools, such as Teams or Slack, provide for building data literacy.

“You need tools that make data visible to your workforce and make it comfortable to interface with data the way they would in virtual meetings,” he says. “It’s not enough to just share data. You’ve got to be able to derive value from the data you’re trying to get.”

To understand that value in context, organizations need to understand how to attain visibility of data, learn how to make it accessible and make it understandable to the broader workforce.

Breakiron says that data literacy is more than understanding where the value is in the data and the way the data works; data access and data security also are fundamental to creating data literacy.

“People have to understand interconnectivity, for example, how one data piece goes through an entire organization,” he explains. “Data that starts in one part of an organization doesn’t just move in a serial fashion. It goes in parallels, and those critical flows are what has to be analyzed to ensure all the various systems are working holistically."

Breakiron adds that a critical element to boosting data literacy is offering a user-friendly user experience and user interface. These intuitive dashboards help guide individuals learn processes to navigate potentially overwhelming volumes of data. Simple user interfaces are a way to quickly and easily understand how data fits into broader contexts.

“When I talk to people about any type of data project, I always start out with the user interface because it drives the success of so many things,” he says. “The user interface has to be easy, but also comprehensive. The phrase we use in Commvault is 'powerful simplicity.’”

READ MORE: Here are key questions to ask about data center automation.

Data Literacy Strategy Starts at the Top

From Breakiron’s perspective, the person ultimately accountable for the data literacy strategy of any organization is the CEO.

“The CEO is going to ensure C-suite business unit leaders and mid-level managers provide context to the data in their organization. And now, CEOs will rely heavily on the newly created position, across industry and the federal government, of the chief data officer,” he adds. “The CDO will be the primary person the CEO is going to rely on to synchronize data literacy efforts.”

However, Breakiron notes, the best CEOs will include everyone in the organization at the table instead of simply delegating data literacy to the CDO and moving on to the next issue.

Richard Breakiron
You need tools that make data visible to your workforce and make it comfortable to interface with data the way they would in virtual meetings.”

Richard Breakiron Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives for Americas Public Sector, Commvault

“They will recognize that HR, finance and logistics all collect data. And so, when they all sit down at the table, it will be critical to figure out why we’re collecting it,” he says. “The next step is to figure out how we’re organizing it and how we make it interchangeable.”

He says that at all of the recent federal events he’s attended, it’s been made clear that the responsibility for data literacy can no longer be delegated; the CEO must own it.

“They must understand data, and they must understand how data operates across their entire organization,” he says.

In Breakiron’s opinion, CEOs must acknowledge that data has been redefined very clearly as a “flow” variable.

“It’s no longer a static variable. You no longer have time to create the written record, because it is online before you even present to the board,” he says. “That’s why you’ve must have a CEO who is invested in understanding data literacy and uses the automated tools directly in meetings.”

EXPLORE: How data can help agencies improve the customer experience.

Planting a Flag, Taking First Steps

While the journey to improve an organization’s data literacy can seem daunting, Breakiron points out that everyone must start somewhere — even if you can’t address all the legacy data.

“For the federal government, that’s a really big challenge, because the legacy is up to 60 years old and may encompasses 8-inch floppy disks, or legacy systems like the occasional Novell system we run into.”

Part of an organization’s approach to data literacy must involve prioritizing data, starting with the information that was collected today and yesterday.

“Start there, put a put a flag in the ground and say, ‘Going forward, we’re going to stop the data wave from overwhelming us. We’re going to start controlling it,’” Breakiron says. “As you get that under control, as you get more automated systems to make your life easier, then you can go back and see what part of the legacy information you really need and which is required by law, in the case of the federal government."

To get a handle on leveraging data, get a handle on data literacy with your entire team.

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