Data is driving new skill requirements

A new collection of skills and business roles are needed to manage and unlock the unprecedented amount of data being generated, as well as minimise any risks.

Today’s organisations must look beyond the latest technologies when it comes to data. They must pay attention to a variety of new and developing skills, working out how these can be combined with technology to deliver the insights and decisions they need.

This expanding skillset can’t be combined in only one person, so this means we’ll soon see a growing number of cross functional teams, across both business and technology groups.

In amongst this upheaval there are particular skills resourcing gaps, and these are where organisations will need to focus their attention.

Data scientists

The era of data has created a talent gap for people who can pull usable insight out of raw data. Several commentators have pointed to data scientists as a key force in influencing modern business practices, holding them up as ‘the new superheroes’.

That said, news about the data science talent gap persists, and it seems that gap isn’t closing as rapidly as many would like. The core issue isn’t finding technically capable people, as many analysts have coding skills.

>See also: Business leaders have a data literacy problem

Instead, the difficulty lies in finding people who can code while keeping an analytical perspective in mind. They need to ensure the results they discover and produce are not only reliable but also relevant to the specific commercial aims they’ve been set.

This is where the gap is. There simply aren’t enough people with the skills to analyse and interpret data, transforming it into useable, focused, business-relevant insight – the ultimate aim of any data-driven initiative.

In-house training

Instead of focusing solely on new talent, numerous organisations are growing their data science capabilities through developing internal talent.

Many companies, of various sizes, make their first steps towards embracing data science through training up current employees and helping them to experiment with cloud-based tools.

If this isn’t possible, and you aren’t able to hire permanent team members, then there are a growing number of data science agencies that can provide the support that businesses need.

However, the skillsets of most agencies focus on the pure data science element, rather than the commercial awareness already identified as crucial.

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.

Open source analytical and data packages

Off-the-shelf data analytics algorithms and visualisation capabilities have exploded, thanks to open source.

There is a possibility that in time organisations may not need data scientists to produce any complex coding for analytics or visualisations at all.

>See also: How the three learning styles can be used to drive data literacy

Instead, the latest generation of packages and solutions will allow organisations to conduct analytics and data visualisation without the need for technical specialists.

If this transpires, and the complex technical elements are taken care of, then there could also be a renewed emphasis on solving business problems.

Data-driven leaders and the chief data officer

With people throughout organisations waking up to the strategic value of data, the skills gap amongst business managers is becoming more and more obvious.

Management – and senior management – almost invariably aren’t equipped to translate results from data science teams into meaningful business implications. Moreover, they need to develop a broad understanding of the data-driven world overall.

There has been a rise of the chief information officer within the boardroom, but businesses need to do far more.

There’s a worrying lack of 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.

What has become apparent is the need for a chief data officer to support the work of the CIO. Organisations can add chief digital officer, alongside chief data officers and director of insights, as emerging new roles which have come about in response to the pressure and opportunity presented by big data.

Organisations without strong data leadership are going to fall significantly behind their competitors in all areas, including their ability to win, serve, and retain customers.

>See also: How to become a part-time data scientist

Intuition has little place in understanding the customer and the customer experience any more. There’s more than enough data to tell you everything you need to know.

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% of businesses feel data is transforming the way they do business.

Data protection officers, security experts, data management, and legal skills

Any data strategy must include an appropriate roadmap to meet the criteria of meeting the challenges presented by data regulation, legislation, and also security issues.

As a result, many data-related roles are emerging to address various skills gaps in these closely related areas.

In many organisations, data governance functions still aren’t able to cope with growing data requirements and increased regulation, let alone the legal and IP issues associated with data.

What is required are data leaders, with the right skills for the job. Supported by the Government, companies need to work quickly to fill these skills gaps in time to address increasing levels of EU and domestic legislation. This isn’t a quick issue to fix.

All senior business leaders will be expected to understand and articulate a company’s data strategy, as well as their position on data security, privacy and ethical use of data.

Articulating each of these 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.

>See also: How will disruptive technology shape the future economy?

In the long term, all companies should be looking to up-skill and upgrade their levels of data expertise.

The data-driven culture needs to exist throughout entire businesses, board level included. 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.


Sourced by Jon Roughley, head of strategy, Experian UK&I

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...