How data literacy drives successful IT modernization

Data is the word that will define the federal government’s continued IT modernization in 2019.

It’s no secret that the amount of data collected daily by the government has reached nearly unfathomable levels. It’s been a pressing concern for years, as agencies and industry alike struggle with how to mine this enormous amount of data for gold.

As we look forward, we can see that these challenges are being met head on as agency heads and Congress look for ways to redefine the government's approach to analyzing and storing data. The most high-profile initiative is the new Federal Data Strategy, launched as part of the President’s Management Agenda. Initial comments for the Federal Data Strategy were received over the summer in 2018, and the next phase slated to be released soon following a delay due to the government shutdown.

While the vision of the Federal Data Strategy is to empower agencies to become more data-driven, it does not solve a critical issue facing all organizations -- the lack of data literacy skills needed to comprehend what these mountains of data are telling us.

To bridge widening skills gaps and further drive innovation across agencies and industry alike, the first step in this process is ensuring that employees at all levels acquire the data literacy skills needed to achieve these goals. Below are three keys for ensuring that data literacy is ingrained across your organization:

Embrace Your Inner Skeptic

The biggest benefit of data is its ability to provide the answers to just about any question you’re asking. That’s why developing a curious and—yes—skeptical mind is critical in developing data literacy. This way, everyone is taking the initiative to find out what’s driving certain trends, and digging deeper to uncover a more complete understanding of data.

In short, the question, “Why?” should always be asked repeatedly.

Asking “why” empowers users to understand what they want to uncover, and question how they arrived at it. The skepticism from seeing numbers or data that may not make sense upon a first glance can lead to tremendous discoveries that could impact future decision-making.

Seek Help from Experts

Not everyone will be a data literate superstar from day one, especially for those in organizations where data-driven decision-making is a new concept. This is where organizations can assist by establishing a strong network of data-minded mentors to help build the culture.

This can be conducted through one-on-one meetings for staff, so they can learn about how data will change their roles and skill sets, as well as enablement at the top levels of the organization. It’s also imperative that leadership embrace the data-driven approach. Everyone in a data literate organization should be constantly questioning (see aforementioned skeptic above) for the cultural shift to work.

Don’t Fear Failure

This last key may seem antithetical to those who work in or around the federal government, as failure is rarely, if ever, seen as an acceptable option. However, data begs experimentation and questioning, and there will be many times when an initiative or a new approach falls flat. Embrace this failure; without experimentation, there will be no discoveries or breakthroughs.

Try new things, identify new insights and develop an entirely new approach to a problem or challenge based upon what the data is telling you.

The federal government is entering a big, bold world when it comes to leveraging data -- the only way to keep up is by ensuring your organization is armed with data literacy.

To learn more, please visit the Data Literacy Project site at

About the Author

Andrew Churchill is vice president, federal sales, at Qlik.

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