Eight in ten businesses believe data is one of their most valuable assets, but a high degree of inaccuracy is hindering critical initiatives, new research from Experian has revealed.

The annual Global Data Management report, which surveyed 1,100 data practitioners and data-driven business leaders globally, found that businesses are still struggling to incorporate meaningful data insights into day-to-day business processes. However, organisations are starting to evolve management practices to better leverage data and improve business performance.

The research shows that a data skills gap has emerged, as many organisations lack the necessary skills and resources to make the most of data they hold. Data literacy, the ability to read, work with, analyse, and form arguments with data, is seen by 84% of organisations as a core skill that all employees must-have in the next five years.

The vast majority (85%) of businesses said data was one of their most valuable assets, and 36% said data literacy was crucial in order to future-proof the business. To address this issue, 30% have a formal data literacy programme in place and 36% say they are planning to establish one in the next year.

The report also found that data debt—the cost attached to poor governance of data in a business—is a challenge for 78% of organisations, with 28% overall saying it is a significant problem. Data debt stems from a lack of data understanding or poor legacy data management practices, often resulting in distrust in information. Two in five organisations say individuals within the business do not trust data insights, but without this, businesses cannot harness the power of their data.

Michael Kilander, Global Managing Director, Data Quality, at Experian, said “Over the last decade, it’s clear that data has increasingly become a critical asset in helping businesses thrive, and therefore, there’s a strong desire to take advantage of the opportunities data enables in driving better customer and financial outcomes. Unfortunately, a rising level of data debt and a data skills shortage are converging to make data insights harder to achieve.”

“However, this year’s research highlights more businesses recognising these challenges and initiating the changes necessary to gain insights from their data. For some, this starts with equipping their workforce with the necessary skills-set to be able to manage data. Importantly, by creating a culture where sharing data knowledge and tools is the norm, these responsibilities can be distributed across a data-literate workforce, freeing up valuable time for your data specialists to be truly innovative and drive success.”

Despite this growing awareness and actions taken, businesses have not yet fully translated into the results companies want to see. More organisations are starting to see poor data influencing their initiatives. Sixty-six percent say a backlog of data debt is negatively affecting new data initiatives, such as machine learning, AI or analytics. This means that many companies (33%) are not seeing the expected returns on the investments they are making.

Despite this, many organisations (76%) have no strategy in place to address data debt issues, although 64% say they plan to address it. To address the challenge, organisations must invest in data quality using a cross-team approach that breaks up siloes. Without data quality standards, checks, and processes to manage how data is captured, maintained, and leveraged, data debt will continue to accrue.