Brands must invest in data graduates

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There is an impending skills gap in data sciences, professionals in the field believe, with demand likely to outstrip supply in the next five years. To keep the edge over their competition, companies need to invest now in sustaining a stream of talent.

The coming shortage of personnel qualified in data analytics is one conclusion of a report by IT consultancy EMC. It surveyed 500 data professionals in the US, the UK, France, Germany, India and China, finding that 65% believe dealing with Big Data – the abundance of market and user data flowing into organisations – will require more new talent than the world’s academies will be able to turn out.

Data analysts seem fairly pessimistic about their own companies’ capabilities, with just one-third being very confident that their employer can make data-driven business decisions. A tiny minority, 12%, of those working in businesses say they get the access to data they need to innovate with and test the tools and processes they use.

They also claim that the two biggest barriers to meeting the Big Data challenge are education and resources. You might be thinking: “They would say that, wouldn’t they?”

And it would be fair to note that data professionals have a vested interest in calling for more resources to be invested into data training. But there is also no-one more aware of, or more able to predict, the technology shifts that will require a company to source new skills.

Furthermore, it is hard to see great danger in overcommitting funds to the development of data capabilities within a business, since they would only allow employees greater opportunity to work on creating and honing the tools that will make you more profitable as a business. The great beauty – or perhaps great liability, depending on your point of view – of the data-driven economy is that the databases you already have can always be segmented in another way; and can always tell you something else you don’t know.

As I was told recently by Betfair’s global head of customer engagement Jeremy Sulzmann, website optimisation and multivariate testing are two key skill areas in increasing demand that are already hard to find in the UK.

It would be in brands’ interests to start putting money into helping universities improve their courses and recruit more students to data-related specialisms. When they graduate they are likely to be the next generation of wealth creators, but there might not be enough to go around.

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