The state of data driven growth and the digital skills dilemma

17 February 2022 7 min. read
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With the pace of digital development increasing at break-neck speed, business leaders are accelerating their use of data as a catalyst of growth. But according to a new report by AND Digital, organisations of all sizes are being held back in their data journeys – for a range of organisational and technical reasons.

The report, ‘Fuelling Growth in an Age of Data’, sheds light into the changing attitudes among business leaders when it comes to data driven growth, and explores what barriers are holding businesses back from advancing their data capabilities.

Stephen Paterson, Chief for Consulting at AND Digital, and one of the report’s co-authors, walks through some of the study’s key findings:

Has your company’s ability to collect, analyse and make meaningful business decisions with data become more or less important in the last 18 months as a result of the global pandemic

Firstly, it became very clear that harnessing data and using it to effectively is a key driver of growth. A large majority (72%) of business decision makers agree that the ability to collect, analyse and make meaningful decisions with data has become more important in the last 18 months.

A further 72% also agree that data is at the core of their business operations and is vital to their decision making

At the same time, however, many leaders face challenges when it comes to enhancing the maturity of their data capabilities. Almost three quarters (75%) of business leaders surveyed say they have experienced anxiety over challenges relating to data.

Beyond that, nearly a quarter of those surveyed (22%) said they are regularly worried about their company’s ability to collect, process and analyse data in a way that can promote growth and support broader business operations.

How often, if ever, do you experience any anxieties / worries when it comes to increasing your company’s ability to collect, process and analyse data to make business decisions / drive business growth

Analysis and access anxieties

At the root of these worries was also lack of access to the right talent required to actually make the best use of the data opportunities that appear as digital industry progresses. The potential is there, but the lack of skills available to use data to competitive advantage is a real concern.

Nearly 7 out of 10 business leaders surveyed expressed the need for greater data skills to help improve their business’ growth, with nearly a quarter stating that a lack of in-house skills is holding their data aspirations back. The information and potential insights are growing exponentially but the brains able to understand and use data advantageously simply aren’t available.

What, if anything, is currently holding your business back from making more use of data to fuel growth

According to the UK Government’s ‘Quantifying the UK Data Skills Gap’ report, a large portion of businesses are having trouble recruiting and filling data roles, and this boils down to a staggering skills gap. The National Data Strategy also recognises the data revolution has implications for the entire UK workforce, in that every worker will soon need a basic level of data literacy to operate and thrive in increasingly ‘data-rich’ environments.

This is why it’s so important that businesses don’t miss an opportunity to use the data they generate from everyday operations and intelligently use the insights to go further.

The cost of skills

It's not just talent access that can hold businesses back from making the most of their data. Over a quarter (28%) of business leaders underline cost concerns to train and equip their people with skills in areas such as data analytics, data platforms, data engineering, data science, and artificial intelligence as limiting their potential to go further into intelligent insight.

What anxieties / worries do you have, if any, when it comes to increasing your organisation’s data capabilities

Especially in uncertain times, the ability to codify and translate business processes and opportunities into software and data is key to informing crucial strategic decisions that will shape businesses’ fortunes for years to come. This shift has been clear during the pandemic – it’s highlighted how quickly businesses can adapt and even grow through adversity if data insights are used wisely.

The report illustrates that the large majority (72%) of UK business decision makers understand putting data at the heart of their strategy and plans to do so have become more important than ever before.

It’s worth noting that aside from the importance of data itself, the report also reminds us of the role that people continue to play in an increasingly data driven economy. After all, technology alone can only take us so far – it’s human oversight that makes digital process possible at all. In an age where growth will be fuelled by the effective understanding, use and application of data, businesses must do everything they can to invest in and cultivate an in-house talent strategy.

My company could improve its ability to drive business growth via data if it had more of the right experts in place

More barriers to data use

Cost and access issues aside, there are many other barriers to leveraging data driven opportunities and growth. 37% of business leaders said that data security was their biggest barrier to becoming more data driven, with a further 30% highlighting the cost implications to their business.

Unsurprisingly, anxieties around data compliance and regulation were seen as barriers too for nearly a third (31%) of decision makers. Even more decision makers (68%) admit they lack the right technology in the first place to even be considered data-centric, with almost one in five (16%) saying legacy infrastructure is holding them back. There are clearly still some foundations to be laid before the true potential of data can be realised, for some firms.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement

That said, organisations that can develop a data-centric culture will have a strategy that informs and guides all members of the business in the use, best practices, technologies, opportunities and regulatory demands that the use of data requires. This in turn will lead to the development and sustainability of data literacy across the organisation. With the right culture in place, everyone in a business can feel empowered to use data to explore and deliver tangible outcomes and opportunities.

Data is often called the ‘new oil’ – prospecting for the skills to refine data into insight is one of the greatest challenges business and technology leaders now face in what is fast becoming data’s golden age. Insight is the best way to keep pace with the wave of change.