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Building business: How Big Data is driving demand for new skills

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wright Studio)

Data is changing the way businesses work. Not only is it shaping how organisations go about their everyday activities, it’s also affecting which skills are in the highest demand. Businesses of today need people who can unlock, manage and leverage data, while minimising any associated risks.  

Gathering up this data is a business in itself. It opens the possibility of discovering previously unnoticed patterns of behaviour. These patterns can in turn be leveraged to make businesses more efficient, target the right customers and provide more bespoke services. However, when it comes to data, it’s important to look beyond technology. Organisations need to consider the skills they need and identify how these can be used to deliver the desired insights and decisions.  This skillset can’t be confined to just one individual. Instead, we will see an increase in cross functional teams, across both business and technology groups.

In amongst this change, gaps in resource will become clear and it’s here that organisations will need to focus their attention and efforts. 

Demand for data scientists

The data revolution has brought with it a need for people who can draw insights from raw information. They will continue to be a key driver in influencing modern business, and while the data science talent gap remains, their value will rise. 

The role of the data scientist is evolving, and organisations are in need of professionals who can take on data organisation as well as data preparation for analysis. Data wrangling, or cleaning data and connecting tools to get the data into a usable format, is still highly in demand.

While small-to-medium sized organisations are not churning out nearly as much data as larger enterprises, sifting through that data to extract meaningful insights can be a powerful competitive advantage nonetheless.

The main barrier to closing the skills gap isn’t finding technically capable people, but rather finding people who can code while keeping an analytical perspective in mind. The results they discover and produce need to be not only reliable, but also relevant to the specific commercial aims they’ve been set. As it stands, there aren’t enough people with the skills to analyse and interpret information and turn it into business-relevant insight – the end goal of any data-driven initiative.

Upskilling internal talent 

It's often more important to focus on developing and upskilling internal talent. The key is to have some sense of what the balance should be between internal talent supply and external recruitment. To measure this, you again need access to robust data. Make sure you are aware of the skills that exist within your teams, and keep records so that you are able to use them in the future.

Data science capabilities don’t need to come from new talent alone. Many organisations are investing in internal talent, training up current employees and encouraging them to experiment with cloud-based tools. Where this isn’t possible, and hiring permanent team members isn’t an option, businesses can look to data science agencies. However, the skillsets of most agencies focus on the pure data science element, rather than commercial awareness. To accommodate these data science secondments, organisations must already have the right infrastructure, business organisation, and supervisory skills in place, so a certain amount of in-house training will be inevitable.

Opening avenues with open source

Open source has enabled the huge growth of off-the-shelf data analytics algorithms and visualisation capabilities. The latest generation of packages and solutions could one day allow organisations to conduct analytics and data visualisation without the need for technical specialists. If this materialises, and the complex technical elements are catered for, then there could also be a renewed emphasis on solving business problems.

The rise of the CDO 

With more people realising the strategic value of data, the skills gap among business leaders is becoming ever more apparent. Those in management positions are largely unequipped to translate results from data science teams into meaningful business implications. 

We’ve observed the rise of the Chief Information Officer within the boardroom, but more needs to be done. There’s a lack capability at a senior level when it comes to seeing and understanding the benefits and risks of developing a data strategy, whether for driving results for the business, or value for customers, or both.

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are needed to support the work of Chief Information Officers. We can add CIO, alongside CDOs and Director of Insights, as emerging new roles which have come about in response to the pressure and opportunity presented by Big Data. The new GDPR regulations have brought in an extra layer of complexity too; new research from Experian highlights that one in three businesses plan to hire a Data Protection Officer during 2017, adding more strength in data knowledge to leadership teams.

Organisations without strong data leadership will fall behind their competitors. Intuition has little place in understanding customer experience any more. There’s more than enough data out there, and businesses need to use it to win, serve and retain customers. 

As with data scientists, these data professionals are in high demand. Experian’s 2015 report into the ‘Dawn of the Chief Data Officer’ found that around 90 per cent of businesses feel data is transforming the way they do business.

Bringing in the board 

All senior business leaders have to understand a company’s data strategy. Articulating this to shareholders and customers will require a particular blend of expertise. In the short term, working with data specialists – both individuals and consultancies – will be vital. In the long term, all companies should be looking to upskill and upgrade their levels of data expertise.

The data-driven culture we hear so much about has to exist throughout entire businesses. There’s no excuse for the board not to be included in that. Business leaders need to understand that the best-informed decisions are made when data is involved, and in order for that to happen a data literate work force is vital. 

Jon Roughley, Head of Strategy - Credit Services, Experian
Image source: Shutterstock/Wright Studio

Jon Roughley
Jon Roughley is Head of Strategy – Credit Services at Experian.