Companies Turn to Existing Employees for Big Data Skills
FEB 17, 2015 10:20 AM
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Companies Turn to Existing Employees for Big Data Skills

By Margo McCall

Big Data CareersThomas Davenport set off an explosion of interest in big data when he described "data scientist" as "the sexiest job of the 21st century" in his now-infamous 2012 Harvard Business Review article. In the excitement that followed, colleges and universities have scurried to establish big data programs and companies struggled to understand exactly what a data scientist does.

The concern, then as now, is that the supply of big data professionals won't be adequate to support a market that by IDC's reckoning reached $16.1 billion in 2014, growing six times faster than the overall IT market.

As with the emergence of any new technology shift, the consultants were the first to notice the widespread implications. McKinsey in 2011 warned that the increasing volume of information that enterprises captured from multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things would force leaders in every sector to grapple with the implications of big data.

While noting the many ways that big data could create value for organizations—making data transparent and usable, collecting more detailed information for better management decisions, and allowing for greater segmentation and improved new product development—McKinsey also warned of the dearth of talent able to manage big data projects and implementation.

McKinsey predicted a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills in the US alone by 2018, as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

Fast forward a few years and amazing strides have been made in trying to close the big data skills gap. Although companies are still fine-tuning their ideas on what type of skill sets will be needed to form the big data teams to incorporate analytics into business processes, sort and analyze structured and unstructured data, and monetize existing data, those with graduate degrees or doctorates in statistics--the bonafide data scientists--will certainly be an important part of the team.

Gartner reports that the rise of big data has spawned a new job title--Chief Data Officer--and that by next year, one-quarter of large global organizations will have appointed CDOs

New big data training and education programs are popping up almost daily. Most are graduate programs. But amid the concern about the big data skills shortage, there are also undergraduate and online courses, and even calls that we begin teaching big data skills as early as high school.

IEEE Computer Society recently joined the Teradata University Network as a partner in an online international community whose members share learning materials, knowledge, ideas, experiences, and job opportunities in the field of analytics. All students and faculty members can register for free access to the Teradata University Network learning portal, which includes hundreds of e-learning resources on integrated data warehousing, big data analytics, and business applications; software packages from Teradata and other partners; and web-based training for popular Teradata certifications.

Resources are also emerging to help sort through all the programs. a multi-skilled person who understands the world of IT and business and has the right creativity to develop difficult, technical, solutions that really help a data-driven, information-centric organization."

Those with this mix of talent and skills can be hard to find, however, so Big-Data Startups suggests that companies start paying attention to the available talent in house and retrain them to match the requirements of today’s fast-changing environment. PriceWaterhouseCooper has produced a video on retraining, and also on how companies can organize teams consisting of different skills.

Universities are also attempting to fill the gap with specialized programs. One of the crop of new programs springing up, as IEEE Spectrum reported, is a M.S. in Business Analytics program at the University of Texas at Austin. Other universities creating Big Data programs include North ­Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC; Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill.; New York University; and the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Internationally, programs are available at Deakin ­University in Melbourne, Australia; the University of Warwick, University of Strathclyde, and University ­College Dublin in the UK and Ireland; and the Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management in India.

The programs typically run for one year, combine knowledge from computer science, statistics, and business, and require students to have a quantitative background.

This article originally appeared in ComputingEdge, a print digest that is provided automatically as a special benefit to members of IEEE Computer Society and the technical community. Sign up to receive it here.

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