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What Data Literacy Skills Do Utility Employees Need?

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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has nearly 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked...

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Data is everywhere, and employees across industries — including energy utilities — must understand how to use it. Data literacy is becoming a critical professional skill that is no longer required only of data scientists. Leading research and advisory company Gartner explains, “Every employee is now an information worker.”

Team members throughout companies and departments can use data to make accurate data-based decisions rather than iffy intuition-based ones; create new products, business models, and workflow strategies; and plan and track effective marketing campaigns. But what are the specific skills that contribute to data literacy? Let’s take a look at some of them here.  

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Reading and Interpreting Data

Data analysis means reviewing and getting insights from data, and it is the basic skill required for data literacy. Data analysis can be performed using various tools, techniques, and frameworks. An article posted by Harvard Business School Online, (HBS Online) notes the most common types of data analysis are:

  • Descriptive – seeking to explain or describe what has happened
  • Diagnostic – seeking to explain or diagnose why something has happened
  • Predictive – seeking to forecast what might happen
  • Prescriptive – seeking to prescribe a course of action that will lead to a desired outcome

Communicating About Data

Data visualizations are ways of presenting numbers in meaningful ways. For example, information about how different types of customers use appliances can be presented as a table, a graph, or even a narrative or video to help utility employees understand how to best serve these customers with new products or services. According to the HBS Online article, “the act of transforming data from a raw state into a form that can be more readily used” is known as data wrangling, data munging, or data cleaning.

Workers should be able to communicate about data in various ways and also with it to support specific scenarios. For instance, a utility may want to show customers data that supports its solar power programs, such as dollars saved or environmental impact. Data-literate workers should also know how to present this data responsibly (that is, share what the data actually shows rather than manipulate it to represent something else).

Understanding Common Data Sources

Utilities use a wide variety of data sources, including surveys, interviews, observations, and experiments. Data literacy includes the ability to recognize reliable from unreliable sources of data, and the skill to knowledgeably interpret each type.

Performing Data Governance

Like grid equipment, data is an asset that must be maintained. Data governance encompasses the practices a company uses to manage these assets. Data literacy includes the ability to understand and comply with data governance procedures.

Savvy companies develop written policies that describe required processes, including those that ensure data quality, security, and privacy. There might be different rules for different types of data. For example, all customer histories might be maintained indefinitely, while email messages older than 90 days might be purged.

The skills listed here are the foundation of those needed for employees across utilities to become data literate. Utilities can help by creating a data literacy program to help workers learn these valuable skills.

What is the rate of data literacy in your utility? How would increasing it help you become more efficient? Please share in the comments.


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