INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Contributed Content, Singapore
Suganthi Shivkumar

All companies in Singapore must look to data to compete or risk becoming obsolete


Companies are increasingly understanding the potential for data to provide information and insights that will improve performance and competitive posture. In fact, the top jobs in Singapore for 2019 will be analytical and data-driven in nature according to a survey by recruitment firm Robert Walters.

However, an absence of a digital culture and the right skills to make operations even more digital poses challenges. According to our Data Literacy Report, 85% of workers in Singapore lack confidence in their ability to read, work, analyse and argue with data.

The issue arises from both the scarcity of data skills and companies’ inability to leverage them for data-driven decision making. To combat this, management needs to take on responsibility to evolve the business to become data-oriented. This is not an easy task due to the significant changes required when it comes to employee skill sets, departmental structures and decision-making approaches.

Whilst many business leaders understand and evangelise the potential of data, it has always been difficult to prove the direct financial impact that a data strategy brings to the table. Our Data Literacy Index identified a set of data-related practices known as “Corporate Data Literacy” that are associated with greater performance.

Findings revealed that firms scoring in the upper third of this measure have a 3-5% higher enterprise value, which for this sample represented $435m-$725.9m (US$320m-$534m) of the total market value of the business. These practices are also positively related to other corporate performance metrics, including productivity and gross margin.

What does Corporate Data Literacy look like?
Corporate Data Literacy does not begin and end with individuals’ skills. Businesses that are serious about earning the benefits of a data-driven culture must introduce training and adapt processes to empower every employee to make decisions using data.

Data becomes even more valuable when distributed throughout the company. Data literate employees also need tools that can help them digest complex information, giving them the confidence to make informed decisions based on their interpretations of it.

Practice what you preach
Firms enabling employees to make data-informed decisions will reap the benefits in corporate performance. Achieving this requires some investment today, and what I have noticed is that the companies already doing this in the region are integrating data literacy training into existing skills initiatives.

Those looking for a place to start can leverage the free resources available online offered by the Data Literacy Project, which also includes an adoptive framework to help businesses get started.

However, that is not the only piece of the puzzle. In enterprises today, the reality is that data is not always universally available and existing processes may impede optimal use. Effecting change will require top-down support to ensure data literate employees are deployed in all departments and functions.

Instead of keeping data access and skills siloed, companies should provide all employees with the authority to use data in making decisions. Having a Chief Data Officer that does not reside within IT teams can also drive such change and ensure data initiatives are not centralised.

Of course, it is impractical to expect large organisations with a huge workforce to achieve data literacy overnight. In this instance, leadership can scale the initiative gradually to make it easier to manage, by bringing additional groups into the fold every 3-6 months.

Simultaneously, management should communicate the importance of using data in decision-making, advise on the technical and human resources available to encourage this, and co-ordinate the access and use of data across the organisation. Most importantly, it should stress that every individual has an important role in sharing data-driven knowledge and techniques with their peers.

UOB is one prime example of a business that now puts data literacy at the core of its operations – something which was barely in place two years ago. UOB has since adapted its approach to data requirements and internal structures to better suit the needs of various major business units. As a result, it has trained over 350 employees in their head office in Singapore and will be expanding training to its international subsidiaries such as those in ASEAN.

Look in the mirror
Although there is hunger from employees to upskill, with 82% of full-time employees in Singapore stating a desire to improve their data literacy skill, it is important that the mandate comes from the top, to champion improved access to data. This empowers employees to use data to make decisions that may have previously been made solely by management.

Many attempts to improve corporate data literacy are constrained because leadership lacks the necessary data skills to kick-start analytics initiatives. To introduce a data-driven culture, management must first improve their own understanding of how data can be used throughout the business.

That said, even the most data-savvy leaders may struggle to initiate such a widespread cultural change, particularly those in companies that are not traditionally ‘data-ready.’ However, the tangible benefits to corporate performance cannot be ignored, nor its importance to ultimately succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Suganthi Shivkumar

Suganthi Shivkumar

Suganthi Shivkumar is the Managing Director for Qlik ASEAN. Based in Singapore, Suganthi is responsible for driving Qlik’s business and leading teams throughout the ASEAN region, which includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Prior to joining Qlik, Suganthi has held senior roles across Asia Pacific in software companies like Hyperion, Informatica, BackOffice Associates and JDA and was also an award winning regional trainer.

Suganthi holds a Bachelors degree in Accountancy from the National University of Singapore. She was the recipient of the 6th Annual Stevie Award for Best Asian Executive (Nov 2009) in New York as well as the iGroupWomen Leaders in India (Winner in the Overseas Women Category – Dec 2009).

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