During the eighties, during my happy days at Uni, I saw on TV a very interesting interview with one of the most renowned Latin American writers that still endures very deeply on my mind. Arturo Uslar Pietri, a Venezuelan intellectual, lawyer, journalist, writer, television producer and politician, spoke about four levels of illiteracy. The first level of illiteracy obviously had to do with those individuals who couldn’t read or write.
The second level, had to do with those who people that are ‘functionally illiterate’. “This group of persons despite being able to read and the write use these skills very seldom in their life. They read or write insufficiently and clumsily and do not depend on these competencies for essential information and communication. Practically they do not read books, and have little or no access to newspapers, experiencing difficulty producing in writing a thought or a concept.”
“Nowadays”, Uslar Pietri continued, “85% of Venezuelans are literate, nonetheless only a few can speak English”. English has become the universal language; the language of science and technology. Globalisation and the speed on which new technologies are developed make those unable to read and write English “illiterate”. They are lagging behind because by the time they can read articles or books translated in their own language the technologies often have become obsolete. People who cannot read or write in English belong to the third level of illiteracy.
Then to my surprise and probably the astonishment of most of the TV viewers, Uslar Pietri confessed that he himself was “illiterate”. It was hard to grasp the idea of this intellectual who was granted the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature and was several times nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature being ‘illiterate’. “You see,” he continued, “I don’t know how to handle computers and I believe I’m too old to start learning. I belong the persons of the fourth level of illiteracy.” Of course, in his defence, Uslar Pietri was in his seventies when the first microcomputers appeared. Nonetheless, he already had the vision that computers would become an essential part of the computer literate society.
Nowadays, after reflecting on Artoro Uslar Pietri’s words of wisdom, and after more than years working with ERP systems , and my experience of the last ten years in Business intelligence, it occurred to me that there is a fifth level of illiteracy. In the BI Survey 15 published by BARC recently from a sample of 2,071 responses, 45% of participants say their companies have less than 10% of employees using Business Intelligence.
So how can one define a data illiterate person? I would simply define it as an individual working at a strategic, tactical or operational level in company that lacks the skills to make informed decisions.
But please don’t be scared. There is a way of avoiding being a data illiterate person. Here are some simple tips:
- Commit yourself the next four weeks on spending at least half an hour per day on learning about Business Intelligence. There are plenty of websites that explain in simple terms how to use data to make clever decisions.
- Investigate what Business Intelligence tools are available in your company that can help you make your decision making easier. You will be surprised how even exporting data from reports in your operational systems (ERP) into Microsoft Excel and using basic data handling tools and commands, can very quickly help you become data literate.
- Express to your manager your interest on how you wish to learn and improve your Business Intelligence skills. You would be surprised how a little training can make you more efficient, effective and productive at work. If your manager is smart person, they would be more than happy you that youacquire these skills and soon.
- Follow on LinkedIn people working in the Business Intelligence space. There are a number of those such as Bernard Marr, Lawrence Corr and Jim Stagnitto that publish very interesting articles on business intelligence.
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