Information as a Second Language Enabling Data Literacy

Gartner Analyst Valerie Logan has written a paper introducing Information as a Second Language (ISL) as a mechanism for enabling data literacy for today’s digital society. Her full research paper is available on the Gartner website here, and we have been given permission to summarise her content in this blog to help raise awareness of this exciting new vocabulary and idea.

Valerie starts by saying;

Digital society demands of its citizens data literacy, developed for competitive advantage and agility. Data and analytics leaders must follow the example of English as a Second Language (ESL) and treat information as the new second language of business, government, communities and our lives.


Valerie introduces 3 key challenges that exist today;

  1. Chief Data Officers (CDOs) express within Gartner’s second annual CDO survey that the top inhibitor to progress with data and analytics programs is change management, rooted in ineffective communication across a wide range of diverse stakeholders.
  2. An information language barrier exists in organisations, which data and analytics leaders must break down if they are to expand data literacy across the entire enterprise. Though academic and professional programs are beginning to address the disparity in talent and skills, in many cases they reinforce this language barrier.
  3. While conversant in the “people, process and technology” capabilities of business models, most executives and professionals do not “speak data” fluently as the new critical capability of the digital era. As a result, data and analytics leaders struggle to get their message across to them.

She makes these immediate recommendations for data & analytics leaders, such as Chief Data Officers;

  • – Cultivate information as a second language (ISL) across business and IT stakeholders by first establishing the base vocabulary, clarifying industry and business domain “dialects,” and developing levels of proficiency.
  • – Drive and sustain improvements to your organisation’s data literacy by identifying areas where data is spoken fluently and where language gaps exist, and establish an ISL proof of concept for language development.
  • – Change the way you and others interact with leaders, stakeholders and peers by “speaking data” in context in everyday interactions, board meetings and as a basis for outcomes-oriented business cases.

Valerie’s paper is based on the Strategic Planning Assumption that by 2020, 80% of organisations will initiate deliberate competency development in the field of data literacy, acknowledging their extreme deficiency.


With successive waves of data and analytics initiatives spanning decades, the diversity among professionals who design and use these solutions has never been broader. In addition to classic business versus IT heritage, professional diversity now includes:

  • – Veterans versus rookies
  • – Data versus analytics backgrounds
  • – Industry-vertical experience
  • – Business domain experience
  • – Scope of experience

While natural and healthy, this diversity is creating an environment of professionals who do not share a common language, resulting in a fundamental communication challenge.

While conversant in the “people, process and technology” capabilities of business models, most executives and business and IT professionals do not “speak data” fluently.

Data as the Core Capability
Figure 1: Data as the new core capability of Digital Business

As data and analytics become pervasive in all aspects of businesses, communities and even our personal lives, the ability to communicate in this language — that is, being data literate — is the new organisational readiness factor.

Gartner defines data literacy as: The ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied, and the ability to describe the use case application and resulting value.

This is a two-way communication dynamic — writing/speaking and reading/understanding.


The information language barrier can exist locally or systemically, regardless of program scope or organisational maturity. Addressing it requires a mindset shift, and deliberate acknowledgement and intervention to course correct. Skilled leadership and deliberate change management discipline are required, beginning with the acknowledgement of information as the new second language of the digital revolution.

Information as a Second Language
Figure 2: ISL: Enabling Data Literacy for Digital Society

Cultivate ISL Across Business and IT Stakeholders

The foundation of any language is a base vocabulary. According to Wikipedia, we begin with simple, generally accepted uses of the terms “data” and “information”:

  • – Data is a set of values of qualitative or quantitative variables
  • – Information is that which informs, and can be encoded into various forms for transmission and interpretation

In the case of “information as a language”, the base vocabulary is composed of three elements:

  • – Managing information:
    • – Data, content, algorithm and information management
    • – Related strategies, methods, governance, technologies and organisational constructs
    • – Across the information life cycle from creation to archive/deletion
  • – Analysing information:
    • – Analysis, business intelligence, data science and artificial intelligence
    • – Related strategies, methods, governance, technologies and organisational constructs
  • – Applying information and leading change:
    • – Integrated information and analytics in terms of a decision in the context of a business process and moment
    • – Integrated strategies, governance, use cases, business process integration and contextualised applications, approaches, change management, and organisational constructs

In addition to a base vocabulary, with any language, dialects form specific to a particular social group or region. In the case of information as a language, natural dialects emerge aligned with:

  • – Industry-vertical domain dialects
  • – Business process horizontal domain dialects
  • – Technical domain dialects

Drive and Sustain Improvements to Your Organisation’s Data Literacy

Identify areas in your business where data is spoken fluently, where language gaps exist, and establish an ISL plan and initial proof of concept (POC) for language development.

Do You “Speak Data”?

To gauge your organisation’s degree of data literacy, start by identifying where data is spoken fluently:

  • – Identify fluent and native speakers who “speak data” naturally and effortlessly. Start with business analysts, subject matter experts, data stewards and architects within your existing business intelligence competency centres
  • – Identify skilled translators — those who have historically served as the mediators across data and analytics programs, and authors of related business cases.

What we have is Failure to Communicate

Identifying where language barriers are inhibiting progress is equally important to identifying where data is spoken fluently:

  • – Identify areas where communication barriers are inhibiting the effectiveness of data and analytics initiatives
  • – Actively listen for business outcomes not clearly articulated in terms of explicit action
  • – Identify key stakeholders requiring specialised translations to better sponsor, understand and support initiatives, with specific attention to C-level executives who must “speak data and analytics” at a conversational level to lead by example
  • – Identify and maintain a list of words and phrases used throughout the organisation that are too vague and engage the data and analytics team in crafting ways to better articulate them.

Setting up an ISL Proof of Concept

As you surface areas where language gaps are inhibiting progress, conduct an initial ISL proof of concept (POC) as a basis for language training and development. Select an area of the business to establish an ISL POC as a demonstration of the need and opportunity for enhanced communication and a shared language. Conduct and reflect on a workshop centred on an existing use case, asking members to articulate the case from their own point of view and use the outcomes to raise awareness and understanding of the data literacy gap by broadcasting the story

ISL Training and Development Programs

Data and analytics leaders should begin to plan for and deliver deliberate competency and language development programs, including intentional cross-training of priority roles such as business analysts and data scientists. Skilled translators and multilingual instructors will begin to emerge as a sign of the deliberate and wide adoption of the new language of digital society. System integrators, consulting providers and technology providers must also develop related programs to raise their fluency in speaking data.

Change the way you and others interact With Leaders, Stakeholders and Peers by “Speaking Data”

“Be the change you want to see in the world” — Mahatma Gandhi.

The same is true in modelling the language you want to encourage and nurture across your organisation. “Speaking data” in context in everyday interactions, from board meetings to team meetings, begins to set the tone for the new mode of communication. Talk business — not just data or analytics.

In addition to conducting a POC, initiate cross-team training for information language development. Challenge your current data and analytics team members to teach their dialect of the language to other members of the team to ensure all members receive a comprehensive view of the use case, analytics and data.

In addition to information language development, data and analytics leaders should use visualisation and a maturing set of communication techniques, including storytelling, customer journey maps, glossaries and infographics, to convey the business impact of applying data and analytics to the business moments that matter most.

Additional research contribution and review was provided by Mark Beyer, Frank Buytendijk, Alan Dayley, Alan Duncan, Carlie Idoine, Doug Laney, Deb Logan, Michael Moran, Jamie Popkin, Mike Rollings, Andrew White.

Additional Reading from Gartner

Why and How to Measure the Value of Your Information Assets

Seven Steps to Monetizing Your Information Assets

How Chief Data Officers Can Use an Information Catalog to Maximize Business Value From Information Assets

How LINQ can help

LINQ speaks data; we reconnect the data-information-knowledge value chain within your business. LINQ helps you to develop your data literacy through the capture of Information Supply Chains which visualise the flow of information in support of your business outcomes. LINQ values the data and information assets in your business, and communicates that value in a simple and consistent way that everyone can understand. We enable you to put data and information at the heart of your business and use it to drive new opportunities to create new business value. The LINQ Base Vocabulary is simple; LINQ describes your business in terms of information, actions, systems and people and how they contribute to your success. This removes the complexity of dialects detracting from understanding – you can apply your own taxonomies for describing the elements of your business if you have them, or use LINQ to enable that outcome for your business.

Our presentation of your data and information assets changes the way you think about your data and information. We enable you to benefit from this new language resolving the communication challenge which is such a large part of the problem that exists today. LINQ reconnects the diverse number of data, information and analytical experts that exist across your business and provides them with the common language which drives value through speaking data. Your team will become data language proficient. LINQ quickly helps you raise the bar as conversations lead to literacy and competency, ultimately enabling the cross section of experts to speak fluently to one another.

Organisations using LINQ are benefiting from the increase in data literacy; business executives are leading by example – they are controlling the conversation about data and information cascading the benefit of a standardised vocabulary to everyone which ensures that data proficiency increases at all levels within the organisation.

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