• Big Data Talent
  • Experfy Editor
  • APR 11, 2014

Future Faces a Shortage of Big Data Human Capital

In the current volatile business environment, three visible trends are transforming the way businesses operate:

  1. Technologies, especially open source—are cheaply available to the average business owner
  2. The hidden potential of big data analytics has been globally recognized
  3. All businesses want to be at the forefront of their industry

Big data, or the terabytes of information businesses routinely acquire, collate, and analyze—is quickly becoming a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace. Because of big data technology, the US retail and manufacturing sectors could see a boost in their annual GDP by up to $325 billion by 2020; and health care and government services could save as much as $285 billion through operational efficiencies facilitated by big data.

More and more, the HR and talent acquisition departments are realizing that focusing on big data talent may soon become the highest priority in their professional functions.

The real picture of talent shortage

The grim reality is that very few organizations have in-house experts who can analyze this high-volume data to uncover valuable insights and create value for their businesses. It is no longer enough to just mine avalanches of data across all operations unless that data can be converted into meaningful insights! In the past, businesses relied heavily on statistical sampling, but now, thanks to big data technology, the entire bulk of corporate data is open for advanced analytics.

McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) published a report titled, Game changers: Five opportunities for US growth and renewal, in July 2013, where the authors mention that

“A significant constraint on realizing value from Big Data will be a shortage of talent, particularly of people with deep expertise in statistics and machine learning, and the managers and analysts who know how to operate companies by using insights from Big Data”

And, furthermore:

“We project a need for 1.5 million additional managers and analysts in the United States who can ask the right questions and consume the results of the analysis of Big Data effectively.”

According to this Report, the year 2018 will witness a severe shortage of big data analysts. US alone could face a shortage of up to 190,000 workers with deep analytics skills.

The skilled manpower fulfillment challenge

The need for highly skilled, data scientists is a well-known challenge—within the big data analytics sector.  In the “Big Data, Big Deal” session at the SIBOS Conference in Dubai this year, it was widely discussed that data scientists need to have the right combination of technology and business skills. Thomas Statnick, the Global Head of Treasury and Trade Solutions Technology at Citibank, said

“It is difficult to recruit people right out of school for these positions…For big data, it is a hybrid role…business and technology. You have to train them or recruit them from business positions. It takes business, engineering and computer science skills. It is an interesting hybrid of a position, but it is really hard to find those people.”

The academic requirements to prepare data scientists

Data science core skills typically involve taking a data set and modeling it mathematically, then building the model, and finally creating stories to share priceless insights. In order to do this job properly, a data scientist may be required to have equal mastery in math, computer science, statistics, business, finance, and a host of other skills. Another problem identified in this context is that most of the academic programs do not offer the right combination of coursework from all these disciplines.

Nigel Shadbolt, a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Southampton, and the co-director of U.K.’s Open Data Institute, said the exact coursework for preparing data scientists does not yet exist.

“Bits of it do exist in various departments around the country, and also in businesses, but as an integrated discipline it is only just starting to emerge.”

Proposed and initiated solutions


Creating business tools to aid the data scientist

This approach has been received with some success. Many tools have been developed to help a novice data scientist analyze a problem and ask the right questions to address the problem. Tools have also been developed to model and analyze data.

Creating academia-industry partnerships

IBM started aggressive hiring of big data scientists last year, and plans to hire a total of 500 big data consultants and researchers by 2016. The company is working closely with the academia to create a joint curriculum in business analytics and mathematics. IBM, SAS, GE, Cisco, and NetApp have recently convened with a number of leading research universities to form the National Consortium for Data Science (NCDS). The primary goal of this consortium is to create university curricula that is better aligned with the needs of the industry.

Masters of Analytics (MSA) Programs

The industry-university partnership has also worked towards building successful Master of Science in Analytics (MSA) programs in some major universities.

The future role of HR departments 

MGI believes that a steady stream of big data scientists will be in high demand across all industry sectors, as organizations continue to exploit big data analytics as a primary, competitive tool.  MGI has published an interactive graphic that shows that the current big data workforce focuses on just 19 out of 146 industry sectors, while the demand for them spans across all sectors. In an executive search firm based out of US, the common concern is that not a sufficient number of students are graduating with math or statistics credits in their coursework. 

As the demand for good data scientists continue to grow, the available manpower will become more choosy and expensive. Thus, recruiting and retaining the right talent will turn into a major challenge. One probable approach may be for HR and talent management professionals to provide developmental opportunities—assisting data scientists or managers at all levels to develop the right skills.

To help their organizations realize the full potential of data professionals, HR and talent acquisition departments will have to cultivate an understanding of what skills are required to perform specific data science roles, and then develop potential candidates for them.

The big data opportunities are making widespread impact on the global economy, and given the proper boost, can get the sluggish economy moving again! The big data industry has the potential to increase global competitiveness and productivity well beyond 2020. Taking the right course of action now could mark a turning point for the global economy.


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