Data puts you in the driving seat – but only if you have the skills to use it

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In an ever-connected world, software is becoming a crucial fuel for business performance and revenue growth. At the same time, end users are demanding more control over their devices and data, including flexibility in how they use and pay for devices. Whether it’s everything-as-a-service, outcome contracts, software licensing, subscription modelling or simply pay-as-you-go, the ways end users interact with vendors are changing. Every industry must continually evolve, and the hardware manufacturing industry’s reinvigorated focus on software is no different.

The combination of software and connectivity allows manufacturers access to a new, powerful asset: data. And this can provide great value. With this, they can build a true picture of the value they offer, and how their solutions are being used. These optics help paint a larger picture than one would have looking at hardware and software in isolation, as is often the case. Data opens up new insights such as the most popular features, times of usage and features that aren’t being adopted. 

The trend toward adding value through software – and increased access to data through connectivity – seems here to stay. An overwhelming majority (85 per cent) of organisations that manufacturer software-enabled hardware agree that data is the future of their business, according to our ‘How Software is Powering the Hardware Renaissance’ report. However, nearly half of businesses (47 per cent) don’t have the skills to analyse the data they have or will collect. Businesses are also struggling to hire staff with the right skills to fill these gaps and turn the data they hold into insights. Put simply, it’s like having access to the best racing car on the grid, but not be able to find anyone to drive it. And this isn’t just in the UK. Businesses across the globe, from the UK to the US and Japan, are all facing a data skills gap crisis.

Kick it into top gear

But it’s not as simple as hiring someone with data skills alone. Businesses need a variety of skills related to data management, analysis and security:

  • Data management – This expertise is vital in successfully managing the data that is coming in and out of the business. Without it, businesses have no idea about the data they have access to, so can’t even begin to take advantage of it. Data management is effectively the umbrella under which all other data disciplines sit and requires organisational, technical and analytical skills
  • Data analysis – Once the data has been collected and stored, it needs to be correctly sifted through, interpreted and analysed. In order to be successful in this area, the required skills range from the need to understand the data elements to analytics or even machine learning to derive the best value out of it. They must be able to analyse, model and interpret data, and use those insights to allow effective business decisions that will benefit the company. It means employees must be good at problem-solving, and have great organisational and research skills
  • Data security – Companies need to realise that the data they hold – and the insights it leads to – has the potential to separate them from their competitors. As such, it’s inevitably going to be a target for hackers, looking to seize that data for their own gain. Hiring someone with the skills to ensure that data is protected at its core through security measures like encryption and multi-factor authentication is essential

Retraining and upskilling current staff is one route to closing the gap. As hardware manufacturers transition to a more software-based approach, seven out of 10 (67 per cent) of them agree there will be fewer hardware engineering roles available within 10 years. These employees could be good candidates for reskilling. The good news is six out of 10 (64 per cent) have already started to do this, with more expected to follow suit. With these staff already up to speed on internal processes and immersed in its culture, the speed at which they can be inducted into new roles can help businesses avoid missing a beat.

Working with a trusted partner can be a great way to bridge the gap and help take the strain off internal teams that are having to take on these responsibilities, without a business needing to find the talent itself. If businesses can bring in external talent this will also be helpful, but can be a long and difficult process. Internal talent in particular has the contextual knowledge that helps to draw the right conclusions out of data.

A human-automation future approach

With manufacturing gearing up for a seismic technological shift, the ability for connected devices to communicate with one another and automate functions will be critical to driving the industry forward. It will generate a whole new wave of opportunities, such as upgrading products remotely the moment an update becomes available and accessing data that reveals never before seen customer usage of products. Yet, this automation doesn’t mean the end for human jobs. In fact, a recent study by Deloitte found that despite 800,000 low-skilled jobs being eliminated as the result of AI and other automation technologies, that over 3.5million new high-skilled jobs were created, showing the positive balance of investing in these areas. Furthermore, three-quarters of UK businesses are looking to employ more people (net) in the future and feel that technology will have a big impact on their business.

Businesses will still need the skills that humans bring. It’s our creativity and problem-solving abilities that enable us to manage and analyse the data and generate those key insights that will shape strategy for years to come. The businesses that succeed in the future will be those that can find the right human-automation balance, retrain and upskill their staff effectively, and bring in expertise from outside quickly. Businesses shouldn’t do it by themselves though, however. They should work with governments to ensure the education processes are in place, so the next generation has the skills that the workforce will need in the future. Whenever any new technology has entered the scene, businesses have adapted and moved forward – the era of automation will be no different if the focus on developing the right skills to take advantage of it is done right.

Michael Zunke, CTO of Software Monetization, Gemalto
Image Credit: Flickr / janneke staaks