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Data skills gap costing businesses $13.8 billion

A data skills gap has resulted in Australian businesses failing to capitalise on the value of data, at the cost of $13.8 billion in lost productivity, according to new research. 

A new report from Accenture and Qlik, titled The Human Impact of Data Literacy and conducted on behalf of The Data Literacy Project, found that while most organisations understand the opportunity of data, a gap has emerged between their aspirations to be data-driven and the ability of their employees to create business value with data.

The survey of 9,000 employees around the world, including 1,000 from Australia, found that when employees struggle to make sense of data, productivity and business value can be affected. In Australia, companies lose an average of five working days (38 hours and 34 minutes) per employee, each year. These lost days due to procrastination and sick leave stem from stress around information, data and technology issues, and equate to AUD$13.8bn in lost productivity.

The research identified two ways how the data literacy gap is preventing organisations in Australia from thriving in the data-driven economy.

First, despite nearly all Australian employees (88%) recognising data as an asset, few are using it to inform decision-making. Only 25% of surveyed employees believe they are fully prepared to use data effectively, and one-in-five (20%) report being confident in their data literacy skills, such as their ability to read, understand, question and work with data. Additionally, only 39% of employees trust their decisions more when they are based on data, with almost half (47%) frequently deferring to gut feel when making decisions.

The report also found a lack of data skills is shrinking productivity. Three quarters (72%) of employees report feeling overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data which is impacting their overall performance. In fact, 29% of surveyed employees stated that they will find an alternative method to complete the task without using data. Across Australia, 56% of workers report that data-overload has contributed to workplace stress, culminating in nearly one-third (31%) of them taking at least one day of sick leave due to stress-related to information, data and technology issues. 

"Data is a gold mine that can fuel a culture of innovation and growth," says Sanjeev Vohra, group technology officer and global lead for Accenture's data business group.

"No one questions the value of data but many companies need to re-invent their approach to data governance, analysis and decision-making. This means ensuring that their workforce has the tools and training necessary to deliver on the new opportunities that data presents," he explains. 

"Data-driven companies that focus on continuous learning will be more productive and gain a competitive edge."

 Jordan Morrow, global head of data literacy at Qlik and chair of the Data Literacy Project Advisory Board, says in order to succeed in the data revolution, business leaders must help employees become more confident and comfortable in using data insights to make decisions.

According to the report, employees who identify as data-literate are at least 50% more likely to say they feel empowered to make better decisions and are trusted to make better decisions. What's more, 41% of employees in Australia believe that data literacy training would make them more productive.

"Despite recognising the integral value of data to the success of their business, most firms are still struggling to build teams that can actually bring that value to life," Morrow says. 

"There has been a focus on giving employees self-service access to data, rather than building individuals self-sufficiency to work with it. Yet, expecting employees to work with data without providing the right training or appropriate tools is a bit like going fishing without the rods, bait or nets you may have led them to water but you aren't helping them to catch a fish," he explains.