The skills you need.

Digital skills are more important than ever as the Australian work landscape shifts rapidly towards a data-driven culture. But what are digital skills? Digital skills go beyond technical knowledge. The digital skills in demand extend to creativity, innovation and what industry calls “good instincts”.

Having is not the same as knowing

Data is often trumpeted as the critical ingredient for successful business decisions. But simply having access to data does little to guarantee better business results and data analytics skills can only take businesses so far. Even with many organisations using Big Data and software-led collaboration, leaders may find themselves paralysed by the sheer amount of data at hand, resulting in information overload and slower decisions.

The real key to business growth is enterprise-wide digital literacy: the ability to use data and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate insights. Digital literacy synthesises both cognitive and technical skills to not only see the bigger picture but translate it into forms that can galvanise others into meaningful action. In a commercial context, digitally literate managers and leaders can work with their analysts to interpret data, understand its potential and spot business opportunities and challenges.

Throw in lots of creativity and imagination

How have platform businesses like Amazon, Airbnb and Uber become successful? Digital literacy underlines much of their performance success. These forerunners knew how to create value for customers using data; instead of physical inventory, they built their businesses by proactively using insights and creativity to solve customers’ problems. In doing so, they’ve worked out how to constantly generate new intellectual capital from the existing data they have at their fingertips.

The rewards of ubiquitous digital literacy are not restricted to these giant platforms. In Australia, smaller companies have used digital technologies and data to punch well above their weight: Pocketbook, for example, uses data from its finance-tracking app to help consumers keep track of their spending and save money in the long run. Divvy Parking, dubbed the Airbnb of parking, makes use of under-utilised parking spaces in Sydney’s central business district by giving commuters access to short and long-term parking.

The combination of creativity, imagination and vision as a foundation of success for these companies shows that “human” skills are key to unlocking data’s true value. Technical abilities are valuable, but it is the ability to translate data into unique ideas or improvements that makes the difference in the new world of work.

When data can’t do the job, follow your instincts

Data has its limitations when it comes to radical innovation. There’s much to be read in what data does reveal and what it doesn’t. “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”, said Steve Jobs, and by that he meant the iPod and the iPhone. While data can prove incredibly valuable for gradual step-changes, major innovative leaps often go beyond or defy the information available at the time. Radical innovation cannot depend on data – because the future does not have data.

Steve Jobs’ skills and intuition put him in a class of demand generators: business leaders with foresight to not only invent new products but reinvent processes and build entirely new markets that meet untapped and invisible customer needs. The ability to think forward without waiting for the data to be there will lead to true radical innovation, as opposed to incremental improvements built on refining current processes or products for existing customers.

Data is crucial in aiding businesses to make informed and profitable decisions, but having technical skills to access and analyse this data is no longer enough to differentiate one business from another. For a business to succeed, leaders must complement data with creativity, imagination, and strategic thinking – and trust their gut to make the leap from market leader to game-changer.

Our UTS suite of data-specific short courses and microcredentials teaches technical skills like data analytics and data literacy alongside ”human” skills  that include creative and design thinking, problem solving and collaboration.

Leaders will do well to integrate creativity and imagination with data analysis. Take the next step today with a UTS Open short course or microcredential.