The UK’s big data future: Mind the gap

Big data and data analytics will be a key pillar to the future of the UK’s Digital Economy. The amount of data generated increases every day and the development of new, innovative tools is helping more and more businesses unlock the value of their data.

The big data revolution is expected to add £241 billion to UK GDP by 2020 as well as creating 157,000 additional jobs. That represents huge economic value, and when added to the expected value of the Internet of Things at £81billion, equates to two times the Government’s combined NHS, Education and Defence budget in 20151.

However, could all that be at risk? For the UK to turn potential into reality we need individuals with the skills and talent to design and implement big data and data analytics strategies. With the UK losing £2 billion from unfilled digital roles, this problem is not unique to big data and data analytics, but that market is expected to count for the largest proportion of vacancies.

The lack of big data and data analytics skills is putting at risk not just the potential contribution to UK GDP but the wider benefits of these tools and technologies to UK citizens. It is therefore crucial that serious attempts are made to address the big data skills gap in the UK. To do so, there are some crucial questions we need to ask, and the answers may not be as clear as we thought.

First, what skills are actually required when implementing a big data strategy? The big data supply chain is vast and there are different skills required at different stages of delivering a project. We will never plug the skills gap simply by increasing one specific set of skills. The UK needs skilled individuals able to build reliable big data platforms, as well as those who are able to identify and import relevant external data sets. Skills are required to bridge the gap between the business problem and the big data solution with an understanding of both, alongside technical analytical skills to use programmes to implement big data solutions. Algorithms need to be designed, trends identified and correlations investigated. Talent in relaying insights provided by data in an intelligible way to non-data experts is required, and someone needs to be in control of the overall strategy.

These are just a few of the skills required across the big data supply chain, highlighting the complex nature of the UK’s big data skills gap.

This leads us to the second key question. Where is gap in the UK’s Big Data skills? Which skills are missing and which do we actually have enough of? Is there a particular area where the UK lacks skilled individuals more than others? It seems to be frequently cited that the UK lacks data scientists, but is that the whole picture? Data scientists alone do not deliver entire Big Data strategies, there are others involved.

Before Government, industry and academia can take specific action to protect our current big data talent and develop a future talent pipeline, we must fully understand what skills are needed and where gaps exist. techUK will be attempting to answer some of these questions, and suggesting next steps for Government and Industry, when it launches a paper on the Big Data skills gap at an event in early October.

The UK’s big data future is bright. To ensure it remains so, we must ensure we have the talent required to support the delivery of the big data revolution.

Jeremy Lilley, Programme Manager, techUK

Image source: Shutterstock/Kirill Wright