As digital and technological advances continue to aid the accountancy sector and expand the functions and roles accountants can do, we ask whether it is necessary for ALL accountants to have some degree of data literacy skills. Technology has enabled accountants to do more, however, training and upskilling is needed to keep up to date. There is a real risk of some accountants getting left behind if they do not embrace change.
- What we mean by data literacy
- Whether we all need to improve our data literacy skills
- How we can improve our data literacy skills (technical and non-technical skills)
- The mindset and culture we need to make business strategy succeed
Speakers and panelists
- Hanna Earls, Director of Finance MI, Data and Analytics at Cambridge University Press & Assessment
- Joe Fitzsimons, Policy Manager at ACCA
- Becky Glover, Finance Director at VNC Automotive & Director, Trustee and Council Member of AAT
- Craig Stirk, Chief Data Officer at Sprift
You can watch the recording of the forum by clicking the button below.
What do we mean by data literacy?
Data literacy is defined as the ability to read, understand, create, and communicate data as information. It focuses on the competencies involved in working with data.
Data is everywhere from what we search on the internet to the food that we buy. Data and its use in our everyday lives is only increasing and so is our need to learn what it means and how to use it. This includes how to read it, understand it, and communicate it. For example, using raw data and turning it into insight, then action to benefit the future. If you can adapt to data then you are data literate.
What are the benefits of data literacy skills?
- Story-telling through interpretation to create insight
- Helps inform strategic decision-making
- Gives raw data context and the ability to assess risk and increase profit
- Ability to better understand a business – how it is operating and what can be done to improve it
- Information can be put in different contexts – new insight leads to new opportunities and more enjoyment in an employees role
- Make better and quicker decisions to become more competitive
- Helps recruitment by offering people the opportunity to learn new skills and further develop themselves – this can give a business an edge over the competition
Should all accountants use data literacy?
Data is seen as an asset and enabler and so is knowing how to use it. Although all accountants don’t currently need data literacy, they will benefit from the points mentioned above. Data literacy can make work more enjoyable for accountants as they don’t have to waste as much time checking data. They can also ask better questions to inform and make better decisions which increase both personal and business success. For these reasons, data literacy skills make accountants more employable and future-proof. Skills can also be applied outside of work to help navigate data in everyday life.
Skills to improve and where to start
Technology can be overwhelming and there is often a lot of fear about where to start. As a result, data literacy should be seen a journey and approached by taking small steps and starting with one problem at a time. Work should also be done to change the narrative that technology is going to wipe out jobs. When spreadsheets originally started being used in finance, there was a lot of fear about what this meant for professional accountants and their roles. Now the finance sector is one of the biggest users of spreadsheets, this is an example of the potential to partner with technology.
Technology is an opportunity to help workers, the focus should be on what the human element can bring to a partnership to be able to amplify skills that couldn’t be done before. This partnership is about relying on human capability to bring ethics and trust into the system. It is down to the professional to show information, advise on the best outcome, and what to focus on from the data.
How to improve data literacy skills across the whole organisation
- Ensure there is a clear data owner so people know where to go for information and to ask questions
- Use tools that people in your organisation are familiar with and/ or can understand. These should be included in the onboarding process and time should be put aside for upskilling and training
- Create a working environment that encourages learning and that people feel empowered to do so
- Encourage workers to ask questions about data interpretation and create a culture to question what the data is telling us
- Keep it as simple as possible and make sure people feel empowered to come forward and ask questions
Mindset for successful change
In order to see successful change there needs to be a shift to using data literacy in day-to-day jobs. People also need to have an interest in data and developing their data literacy skills, not everyone in an organisation will have this interest. Softening some of the language around data can help it be more accessible and easier to digest. Businesses should also start by encouraging smaller steps, such as choosing one problem to delve into and picking apart one aspect at a time. As well as create an environment where it feels safe to try new things and to fail, this will come from the top management to create.
Furthermore, there needs to be a mindset in the organisation to learn from failure rather than shaming it. This can be done by reviewing what went wrong and what worked well to ensure positive change for the better next time. People need to feel comfortable with the change within themselves and factor failure into the process of making change.
First Intuition’s Digital Finance courses
First Intuition has designed and developed ‘finance-flavoured’ programmes to help accounting and finance professionals gain a better understanding of digital technologies. Including how they are relevant to the finance world and how they can help provide insight and impactful support for business decision-making.
These digital finance courses focus on understanding the different digital technologies available for finance professionals for them to make informed decisions on which technologies are right for them and their organisation. This is done by using real-world case studies and applying them to the context of accountancy and finance. The courses also challenge finance professionals to look beyond technology and focus on people and the skills they offer to help ensure companies and their staff are more resilient to change.
Digital Programme Manager, and creator of the two courses, Louisa Matheson comments:
“I was really excited to launch our new FI digital courses: Level 1 Digital Finance Essentials and Level 2 Focus on Data Analytics. I’m passionate about these courses because they combine the opportunity to:
- Strip away the hype and jargon and discuss the latest developments and opportunities in Digital Finance and Data Analytics, and
- Focus on people and how we can overcome resistance to change and develop a growth mindset.