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The five essential data skills for non-data professionals

By Academy Xi

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Gone are the days of data being analysed, assessed, and applied only within the confines of I.T departments. Now, more than ever, senior management teams need to embrace data and view data skills as being a critical part of the foundation for employees’ professional knowledge across all departments.

Your people need data literacy to be able to handle data confidently and effectively. We aren’t talking complicated analysis concepts, but practical, hands-on skills that can be applied to daily tasks and projects.


Simply, data is power. It isn’t theoretical, or an opinion and if you equip your teams with the ability to understand how to use data meaningfully, they will grow within their roles and your organisation will reap the benefits.

We have identified five essential data skills for non-data professionals. While it is possible that some of these skills might already exist within your teams at varying levels, it’s important to note that this skill set is a journey, with each step building on the one before. The best results will be experienced when your people have a working understanding and ability to apply the full suite.

Let’s check them out:

Skill 1: Defining the problem

Why fumble around with guess work and opinions on how to tackle business problems when you likely have access to data that can point you in a direction that is more likely to result in a meaningful outcome?

Being able to translate a known or perceived business challenge into a data analysis problem offers individuals and teams the opportunity to set goals and scope solutions.

Once a problem has been clearly articulated and defined, it is possible to then plan how you can analyse datasets to arrive at helpful and actionable insights, which can reveal options for how to approach solutions.

Asking data-driven questions

Asking the right kind of questions is key to getting truly useful detail and insights from your data. You can have the most intricate IT infrastructure in your organisation, but it won’t generate insights of its own accord.

The more specific you can be with your questions, the higher the quality of results you will receive. For example, ‘How can product X generate us more money?’. This could be made more specific: ‘Which of our marketing efforts generated the highest return on investment this quarter, which we can modify to promote product X and in turn increase profits?’. Clarity is also key – what exactly are you wanting to find out?

Data analytics training provides teams with the tools for how to understand and define a problem as the first step, which is the foundation of any data analysis work.

Skill 2: Collecting data

The notion of collecting data can be intimidating to those who aren’t used to working with datasets, but the fact is, your teams are likely already collecting data and perhaps even using it.

What can data look like in non-data roles?

Your marketing team might have a thousand subscribers to a monthly email newsletter. The data behind these sign-ups could reveal several details about the demographic who engage with the content that could influence future marketing activity or be shared with other departments for their benefit. 

Within other departments, such as customer service teams, there is often an abundance of what is known as ‘behavioural data’ available and is one of the most common types of data. This can include purchase and transaction records, website use and internet search history.  

A recent study from Google revealed that a customer journey today can incorporate anywhere from 20 to 500 touch points. All touch points equate to data.

Why learn how to collect data?

When your teams understand why data is important and how it can benefit their outcomes and those of the wider organisation, giving them the ability to know how to collect it empowers them to create benefit. One important aspect of data collection is it can enable more personalised product and service delivery to customers.

Mckinsey research reveals that companies that use data to effectively personalise their product and service offering to customers generate 40% more revenue than those who don’t or do an average job of it. Furthermore, “71% of consumers expect companies to personalise interactions and three quarters will switch if they don’t like their experience”.

Empowering teams with the knowledge of how to collect data will enable them to:

  • measure and evaluate project outcomes
  • understand how to apply findings to create powerful marketing
  • personalise customer experiences
  • effectively encourage stakeholder buy-in
  • save time and increase productivity.

When individuals and teams are able to harness data effectively and perform these tasks, there is no way but up for your organisation.

Skill 3: Pulling insights from data

An insight report from McKinsey states that by 2025 ‘nearly all employees will naturally and regularly leverage data to support their work…they will be empowered to ask how innovative data techniques could resolve challenges in hours, days or weeks’ – McKinsey (2022)

By giving your teams access to training that will enable them to pull insights that are actionable from your company data, you’ll be preparing your workforce for what is to come in the next few years and keep your organisation ahead of the pack.

What is a data insight?

All too often, what are called ‘data insights’ can simply be more information. That’s not an insight. Let’s clearly define this.

  • Data = unprocessed facts (often numbers in a spreadsheet)
  • Information = prepared data, providing context and presented in a more human-friendly fashion (eg: dashboard, report, chart)
  • Insights = generated by analysing the information and drawing conclusions. 

 The combination of the data and the information can lead to the discovery of insights.

Why are data-driven insights important?

Fundamentally, insights achieve impact. By using data driven insights, you’re working from an evidence base, as opposed to preference, instinct, or assumption. Once analysed, the conclusions that can be drawn from data are a lot more powerful, accurate and effective.

Mckinsey Global Institute reports that data-driven companies report above market growth in the range of 15-25%. Their findings reveal that there are five levers that enable data-driven sales growth by using data insights.

This particular study focused on the benefits of data insights on sales growth, but it is highly likely that any department would benefit from applying data insights to achieve significant benefits.

McKinsey continues to reveal that data-driven businesses are 23 times more likely to gain customers, but additionally six times as likely to retain them and a whopping 19 times more likely to be profitable.

Benefits of your teams learning this skill:

  • They will know what an insight is and how to pull it from your company data
  • Ability to access meaningful insights to empower projects
  • Actively knowing how to use insights to influence and drive change
  • Evidence-based insights will be used, not instinct or assumption based.

By investing in training that provides the hard data skills and is tailored to suit the needs of your industry and organisation, your team will learn how to embed these abilities into the way they work daily.

An integral part of this learning will be how to apply data driven insights.

Skill 4: Visualising data

Once data has been collected and analysed, it can be represented visually to make it easier for conclusions to be made. It is ultimately an efficient way to deliver data so that meaningful discussion and decision making can take place.

Learning to visualise data is a useful skill for any industry and team. It’s an effective way to share information with stakeholders and to communicate a large data set efficiently.

Examples of visualisation methods include:

  • Heat maps
  • Tables and pie charts
  • Infographics
  • Scatter plots
  • Line charts.
Image source: Neil Patel, "How to use data visualisation"

Let’s be clear that visualising data isn’t simply making a spreadsheet into a colourful chart or graph. The power of presenting data in a visually appealing way, is ultimately to clearly communicate an idea. You might be outright declaring something with what you present or perhaps be planting a seed to encourage an exploration of an idea or a possibility, driven by the dataset.

Why learn how to visualise data?

  • Assists in clarifying ideas from datasets.
  • Makes concepts easier to comprehend and more memorable for stakeholders.
  • Assists in gaining insights into large amounts of dry data.
  • Helps to understand consumer behaviour.
  • Can aid in predicting volumes of sales.
  • Quickly pinpoint business areas that need improvement or more focus.
  • Promotes identification of relationships, patterns, trends, and opportunities
  • Reduces errors across the business.

When teams know how to visualise data, they will be able to support faster decision making, which will ultimately increase the productivity of your organisation and generate more profit. Don’t let your data go to waste. Give your people the power to bring it to life.

Skill 5: Crafting data driven stories

It’s clear to most teams that data isn’t impactful when it simply sits in a spreadsheet. By visualising the dataset, we bring it to life and when put in the context of a story, we increase the engagement and buy-in with whoever we are presenting the data to.

Increasingly, there are more sources of data available to companies and they are rapidly becoming larger and more complex datasets. Being able to distil the data through a story is a vital skill. 

By getting your teams trained in basic data analytics, they will be able to learn how to present datasets visually and within a storyline. You don’t need to be a degree qualified data analyst or Hollywood screenwriter to generate a compelling data narrative. 

Essential in your company marketing, storytelling can drive conversions and return on investment, but before that stage, it is also greatly useful in-house when presenting datasets.

 Why you should focus on data storytelling:

  • Storytelling brings data to life and makes it more memorable
  • You are more likely to engage stakeholders with story
  • Increase influence of strategic decision making
  • Stories can inspire and drive business change

The bottom line

Chances are that your organisation is sitting on a minefield of valuable data without even realising it. It’s also likely that your teams don’t know how to recognise and use data meaningfully, so it is disregarded in favour of other tasks that are known and familiar. 

Investing in a short training program in data analytics for your teams that is geared for practical application in any department, will provide people with the skills to: 

  • Identify different data types
  • Know how to collect data effectively
  • Understand data samples
  • Pull meaningful insights from data
  • Visualise data meaningfully
  • Communicate with data-driven storytelling

Combined, these skills will ramp up your organisation’s evidence-based decision making, planning and prioritisation. This equals a substantial leap in productivity and subsequent growth, both for individuals and your overall business.

Ready for a data-driven culture?

At Academy Xi we design and deliver tailored, work-ready upskilling and reskilling programs. We work with industry experts to ensure that organisations of all sizes are equipped with the latest knowledge and skills across design, tech and data, business, and marketing.

We offer a range of data training solutions to help you transform your workforce. These range from one or two-day workshops right through to highly-tailored data enablement programs designed to elevate the data capability of your entire organisation. We offer these in-person or online and are flexible in terms of delivery requirements and timeframes.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you transform your organisation by teaching you how to maximise your data.