In a brutally competitive market, more and more firms are finding an edge, or a new niche, through their ability to extrapolate insights from data.
Tesco is well known for its efforts in this domain, data mining people’s buying patterns to suggest targeted products – such as beer coupons for new fathers who will likely curtail their time at the pub.
Another example is Wonga, a British start-up that analyses a wide array of data on the fly to decide almost instantaneously whether you are credit worthy for a same-day loan.
Across many industries, being able to make clear sense of data is rapidly becoming a key facet of how firms compete or make major decisions.
To deliver on this, CIOs are increasingly in the spotlight – being asked to live up to the information part of their job title. This provides CIOs with an opportunity to embrace analytics capabilities to extend their value throughout the rest of the "C-suite" and the entire organisation.
This shift is increasingly clear to see. During 2012, nearly three in four (72%) businesses in the US were planning to increase their spending on analytics – even as many other budgets were squeezed – a survey by Accenture and SAS shows.
Recent analysis by the Accenture Institute for High Performance shows that by 2010 the UK had nearly 354,000 jobs focusing on data analytics, with a further 77,300 set to emerge by 2015.
Recent data from Gartner, which takes a broader definition, predicts that as many as 4.4 million IT jobs will be created globally to support the rise of big data.
According to Accenture’s research, the financial services sector is the biggest source of demand for such skills locally. In the UK, by 2015, 2,300 new analytics jobs will be created within insurance firms, for example, with a further 1,800 in banking.
But the City is not the only story in town. Pharmaceutical companies will account for another 1,300 jobs as they seek to make sense of growing volumes of genetic and patient information, to bolster their drug discovery efforts.
Elsewhere, oil and gas firms are tapping data specialists to help identify where to intensify their exploration efforts – collectively accounting for 900 of the emerging analytics jobs.
On the big data analytics skills hunt
But just as this demand for specialist skills is surging, the supply of necessary talent – mathematicians, statistical experts, data scientists, and others – is getting increasingly tight.
For new graduates, this will mean significant opportunities ahead. But for CIOs seeking to recruit, it means competing against a host of rivals, many of whom will be willing to spend whatever it takes to secure the right talent.
Read more on the quest for data analytics talent
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Gartner’s research suggests that only about one-third of global demand for new big data-related jobs will actually be met. One challenge is that there is often a mismatch of the key skills needed. While the UK creates many new PhDs each year, too few currently seek to become specialists in the field of analytics.
A further issue is that the necessary skills go far beyond a basic expertise in technology and software, often requiring higher-level capabilities – from developing new models and algorithms, through to interpreting data from a range of old and new sources, in both structured and unstructured formats.
What is really needed are the specialists that focus on quantitative analysis and information modelling, with a specific objective of helping the rest of the business make smarter decisions. Furthermore, they also need to be adept at the more political challenge of helping executives improve their decision-making processes, by providing fact-based insights that can complement their experience and instincts.
CIOs in the spotlight
All this puts CIOs at the nexus of the challenge. They will need to create and champion a clear analytics vision for the company to fulfil the demands being made of them. But they will also have to deliver on this amid a growing talent gap in the market. Grappling with this requires efforts beyond a corporate level alone, from encouraging students to pursue relevant subjects, through to improvements within the education system itself.
But there is much that CIOs can do too. As a first step, they should recognise this as a clear opportunity to collaborate more closely with their C-suite peers, whether the CFO or head of marketing, to better understand and shape their strategies and objectives, while also highlighting the possibilities that could be achieved. This will help to get these executives on side in tackling the talent challenge.
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Second, the CIO can collaborate with human resources to bolster their firm’s ability to compete for scarce skills. For example, more can be done to raise awareness of the opportunities within analytics, so as to attract a wider pool of talent beyond IT specialists alone.
Third, the job itself can be made more appealing, by highlighting to candidates the opportunity they have to solve difficult and compelling problems, to give them a sense of purpose and mission. On the flip side, CIOs can explore how to offload some of the more mundane aspects of the job, such as low-level reporting and analysis, which deters many high-level candidates.
Fourth, within the IT function itself, a big data-related centre of excellence can be created. Within this, more flexible career paths can be mapped out within this team, to show aspiring data engineers various routes that they might follow internally, as they seek to map out their futures – whether as analytics experts, data scientists, or to carve out a role as the chief data officer, for example.
These ought to provide routes that allow candidates to develop, without necessarily requiring them to switch into management to take the next step up in their career.
Whatever the approach, one thing is clear: if CIOs are going to meet the organisation’s information demands of tomorrow, they are going to need to get creative today in how they find and retain their analytical talent.
Narendra Mulani is global managing director of Accenture Analytics
Nick Millman is Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America lead for analytics technology at Accenture