Data literacy now a key workforce skill, says Qlik CEO

“Data democratisation” now an essential part of modern business

Data literacy, according to Mike Capone, CEO of analytics software company Qlik, is to the information age what traditional literacy — reading and writing — was to the industrial age: a skill essential to anyone wanting to fully participate in the workforce, and one required by all organisations for every facet of their operations.

“Data democratisation”, enabled by a data literate workforce and suitable tools, will be essential, he told Computerworld during a visit to Australia.

“Companies will get more efficient by putting data in employees hands. If staff have to queue outside the data scientist’s office to get their questions answered they are not going to be able to compete in the long run.”

As example of this democratisation of data, Capone cited US based global publisher, Conde Nast and US propane gas supplier AmeriGas.  “At Conde Nast, 90 percent of their employees sign on to Qlik every day; they use it to help manage all their sales and distribution,” the CEO said.

AmeriGas, he said, had been able to reduce costs by US$20 million annually by “giving their drivers a simple analytics app that told them what delivery routes would be most effective and what customers were likely to be home at what time of day.”

Locally, Qlik recently named New Zealand company Savor as a customer. Savor operates restaurants under the Seafarers, Ostro Brasserie & Bar and Ebisu brands, and Qlik quoted Ebisu ‘sake professional’ Wayne Shennen, saying Qlik had helped Ebisu reinvigorate its drinks offerings.

“We noticed one brand of a particularly good sake was underperforming and encouraged our staff to actively promote it,” Shennen said. Before leveraging Qlik, we would sell 1.5 bottles of it a month, now we’re selling one bottle per day.”

Many more ‘citizen data scientists’

In its February 2018 Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms, Gartner said the number of citizen data scientists would grow five times faster than the number of expert data scientists over the next three years. Capone said this estimate was too conservative: “I think the number of citizen data scientists will go faster than that.”

To meet the growing demand for data literacy, Capone said Qlik was evolving its data analytics platform to widen access to data analytics capabilities. It also has a number of initiatives designed to boost data literacy.

In June it launched, globally, a data literacy education program saying the aim was “to help individuals and organisations embrace the next wave of business transformation in an increasingly data-centric world.”

Qlik CEO Mike Capone
Qlik CEO Mike Capone

Also in June the company expanded the Qlik Academic Program to over 20 education institutions across 20 cities in Australia and New Zealand.

Through an online portal the program provides lecturers with free resources –Instructor-led content, in-class activities, sample data sets, and student assignments – to help lecturers and students develop analytical and data literacy skills.

Capone said: “For business to take analytics to the next level and lead with data their employees need to be data literate. Partnering with universities exposes people early to modern data analytics tools and gets them ready for the workforce in terms of being analytics and data literate.”

Data analytics meets machine learning

As part of this ‘democratisation of data’ the Qlik CEO said there would be a growing need for cognitive capabilities and machine learning in data analytics software, and this is already starting to appear in the company’s software.

“Our latest June release already has some cognitive capabilities built in,” he said. “When you drop data in it will give you suggestions on how to visualise that data and how to look for patterns in that data.”

However he does not foresee these capabilities rendering a data literate workforce redundant almost before it becomes established.

“More and more you will see machine learning and algorithmic capabilities built into analytics tools, but not to replace users. People will be important: augmenting their capabilities will be a big push in the analytics industry.”

Capone also sees voice playing an increasing role in data analytics tools and says Qlik is developing partnerships with voice companies that will see voice capability appearing in Qlik products in about year.

This capability, he says, will go well beyond that of consumer tools like Siri. “Siri is cute but to do high powered analytics we need more advanced technology, and it is coming.”

ANZ a key Qlik market

Capone told Computerworld that Australia and New Zealand represent a key market for the company. “Australia is one of our fastest growing regions, and we have a strong strategic focus on Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

“We find the Australian market to be somewhat leading edge when it comes to leveraging technology to run the business. You have some really smart and tech savvy companies. They all have one thing in common they are not afraid to invest in technology to make their businesses better.

 “Our customers here push us quite a bit. They have driven us into some verticals that we maybe would not have done otherwise: natural resources, mining industries. And we’ve added features and functions for financial services because some of our big customers here have been asking for them.”

Major Australian companies, he said, included NSW Health and the ANZ bank. “ANZ is a huge customer: they use us in almost every aspect of their business,” the CEO said.

Capone said Qlik had about 50 staff in Australia, out of a global workforce of about 2000.

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