Why We Should Be Excited About Data Literacy

Allen Hillery

Hello! My name is Allen Hillery and I’m happy to be teaming up with Matt and Dave to get you excited about Data Literacy. I’m a data champion who has worked with business and data teams throughout my career playing the role of ambassador and coaching them on how to better leverage data. I’ve had the opportunity to work in companies with varied data maturities ranging from reactive to more thoughtful on executing results. Like most of you, I aspire to work in a truly data informed organization where everyone is literate to understand the context of their data they’re analyzing and the value it brings internally and externally. 

So my question to you is - How comfortable are you with data? Does the thought of getting your hands dirty with data excite you or make you want to cringe? According to Forbes, there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created daily. If you think about it, data is a major part of our lives.  Each one of us, generates data as we move from google searches to shopping with a club card at the supermarket, not to mention data created by Internet of things. In the office, are you the go to dashboard expert or maybe you’re resident data whisperer who massages insights out of your analytics teams? 

Being data literate means you have the ability to read, understand, create and communicate data as information. We are on the precipice of an exciting time, as we have superfluous data available to analyze.  This data can present information that provides better customer experiences and enables your team to identify which segment would be best served by your products. While the amount of data being created can sound daunting, the evolution of the tools and infrastructure to help us navigate this landscape is intriguing! 

People aren’t going to go to BI, BI has to go to to the people.
— Nick Caldwell

Tech executive, Nick Caldwell said, “People aren’t going to go to BI, BI has to go to to the people. This is already happening in a big way.” The staggering amount of data that has been made available to us has hit a tipping point where data analysts have to enable non technical business partners to develop insights on their own. This trend has caused a shift towards more intuitive self-serve tools.  At the same time, the proliferation of opportunities to learn query language are seemingly ubiquitous.  

In addition to trends pivoting our work cultures to being more data informed, the growth and learning opportunities that will come from leveraging both data and data literacy have me really psyched!  Companies are beginning to realize the importance of investing in their employees’ data literacy. AirBnB is a shining example of investing in data literacy through the creation of their data university. This effort was made with the belief that every employee should be empowered to make data informed decisions. It took roughly two years to launch but one of the amazing results is a reported 50% increase in active use of their internal data platforms. Another benefit is that it frees up data teams to concentrate on more complex tasks. 

AirBnB Data University

Sharing success stories, like AirBnB illustrate the importance of empowering employees and customers with data. Think of all the apps and services you use right now. You’re leveraging data when you are booking that next AirBnB, searching Yelp for food recommendations and hailing your lyft to get around. BI is coming for you and you’re more acquainted with data than you realize. So maybe you’re the resident data wrangler on your business team who realizes that data is not as aloof or mysterious as you once thought? Maybe your knowledge of the business combined with your new found data sleuthing skills has put you on a direct path to being a data champion lobbying for more training? Then you’re at the right place! We’re here to reassure you that you don’t have to be a data scientist to be data literate! You just have to be open to getting your hands a little dirty with understanding how to leverage data!

About the Author


Allen Hillery

Adjunct Professor at Columbia University,
Writer and Editor at Nightingale, a Medium.com Publication

Allen serves as part time faculty at Columbia University’s Applied Analytics program. He has extensive experience in developing and executing data analysis and integrating results into marketing programs and executive presentations. Allen is very passionate about data literacy and curates an article series that focuses on the importance of creating data narratives and spotlighting notable figures on how their use of storytelling made major impacts on society.

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