A lot of people continue to be mystified by Big Data, what
it is, and why it's suddenly become such a 'hot topic' for businesses across
all sectors globally? When clients ask about hiring in this area, it's clear
there is a lack of clarity on the talent profile, the location of skills and
how they can identify and attract the best talent.
digital data is unstructure
What is evident is that demand for skills in
this area is rapidly on the rise. To understand the origins of this pressure it
would be useful to start with some context, a quick and basic explanation of
Big Data and why it presents both an urgent challenge and huge opportunity for
At a very simple level, Big Data can be defined as a vast
collection of data that is uncategorised and not easily searchable. In the last
few years there has been what is commonly referred to as a 'data explosion': a
sudden rise in available data caused by the rapid increase in data sources from
media and communication outlets, social media and crucially machines, with the
advent of IoT and smart devices. In effect, this has created vast lakes of
information, much of which is generated in real-time, meaning it's not just the
volume of data, but also the speed at which the data is generated, variety of
sources and the unverified accuracy that create the unique characteristics of
Add the additional complexity that 90% of digital data is
unstructured and it's easy to understand why this makes an unprecedented
challenge for organisations. In essence they are now sitting on vast quantities
of rich, potentially powerful, yet invisible information.
The role of
the data science/ big data function is to create value from Big Data through
the application of highly advanced technologies and scientific
Telematics insurance ……monitoring real-time
behaviour allows the insurer to assess risk and create bespoke pricing and
So what is the value to organisations?
Data Analytics is changing our world: in healthcare it's helping us predict
disease patterns and find cures, in science it's helping us make new
discoveries and in security it's helping the police predict crime patterns and
analyse criminal behaviours.
In business it's allowing for faster, better
and more qualified decision making: you'll hear talk in the corporates about
transformation to a more 'information centric' culture and the more analytics
driven businesses in technology and telecommunications going one step further,
with the Chief Data Officer (CDO) or Head of Data Analytics being positioned as
the top strategic role within the organisation. An interesting use of Big Data
analytics is to create new products and services for customers. A good example
of this is telematics insurance (also known as black box insurance), whether
that be a sensory device in a car, the home or your pet, monitoring real-time
behaviour allows the insurer to assess risk and create bespoke pricing and
The opportunity Big Data presents to deepen the
customer relationship through providing personalised advice and products to
customers is significant. Showing value to customers through an enhanced
customer experience is the key to reversing the 'switch to save' behaviour we
have seen across all sectors in the last few years.
Enhanced customer experience is the key to reversing the 'switch
to save' behaviour.
Cost reduction is also key. Insight driven
approaches can transform a huge range of organisations' operational processes
to bring immediate benefit. Within utility companies, where, with the advent of
smart homes and the IoT, almost every aspect of the network will be visible,
companies can get a comprehensive view on when and how customers are using
devices across their network, for example, kettles being switched on in the X
factor ad break, meaning demand planning models can be much more
Issues can also be detected before the customer has even
noticed and organisations can have them pre-emptively resolved, equating to
greater efficiency, fewer fines and complaints, thereby giving a more seamless
So what are the skills
and experiences required to bring value to the Big Data challenge? Broadly
speaking, senior roles in this space can be broken down into three categories;
1. Lead Data Scientists, 2. Big Data Analytics leadership roles, and 3. Chief
Data Officers. The latter being a broader leadership role that is relatively
new in concept and one we have seen rapid uptake of by organisations in recent
The common theme between the roles is the level of intellect and
qualifications that is required to truly excel in this area is significant, in
fact it's pretty much akin to that of a Rocket Scientist! As a bare minimum
organisations who are building serious analytics capabilities will need a Data
Scientist with either a PhD in Artificial Intelligence, Computer Science or a
Mathematics and Science subject, which involves working with novel
methodologies to interpret complex data sets.
explosion and upsurge in digital usage is putting huge pressure on talent
supply: the existing pool of talent globally is far from adequately meeting
Whilst candidates in this space tend to have 'off the scale'
IQs, recruiting individuals with strong EQs as well tends to be the biggest
challenge. The fact remains that individuals with extremely strong analytical,
mathematical and scientific capabilities can often be lacking in emotional
intelligence. In the field of Big Data, having a healthy balance of both is
required at leadership level: the IQ to create the value out of the data and
the EQ to translate the key messages effectively to the business, thus having
the ability to present a compelling story and the actionable insights to make
the value meaningful.
Location of skills
The data explosion and
upsurge in digital usage is putting huge pressure on talent supply: the
existing pool of talent globally is far from adequately meeting demand.
The UK has suffered from a traditionally low concentration of technical and
analytical skills. With many organisations favouring outsourcing offshore as a
quick fix solution to the skills deficit, we have seen a lack of investment and
intent to home grow these skills. Whilst there is a small pool of high quality
talent, competition for the best people remains fierce.
concentration of skills has had a number of consequences across the talent
landscape for senior leadership roles. Firstly, the creation of artificially
high salaries; candidates with limited experience and lacking in well-rounded
business skills are often over promoted into roles and attracted by the
'highest bidder' into senior positions, essentially putting middle-senior level
managers into Director level roles and enjoying executive packages.
Secondly, candidates are headhunted frequently and as such the candidate market
has become highly transient, with senior candidates often unable to evidence
having delivered sustainable transformation before moving on to another
Critical mass of talent can, unsurprisingly, be
found in the digital goldmine of the US West Coast or India.
On a global
level the critical mass of talent can, unsurprisingly, be found in the digital
goldmine of the US West Coast or India, a long established hub of technical
outsourcing. However, even with the concentration of good talent in both
locations, skill shortages are still projected. A recent McKinsey report in the
US forecasts a shortage of 180K Data Scientists and 1.5m analysts and managers
by 2018. In India skill supply is actually limiting growth; not only are they
continuing to deal with the sharp rise in outsourcing demand but are also
battling an internal digital explosion whereby internet and mobile phone use is
increasing at an unprecedented rate.
can organisations do to attract these skills? In the short to medium term it's
clear that any organisation that's serious about attracting top tier talent,
needs to take a truly global approach to their search. In addition, being
prepared to relocate individuals and 'buyout' elements of their existing
package is also key; ultimately organisations who have managed to attract the
best talent are now working hard to retain it and when going into battle for
such skills, businesses need to be armed with the appropriate weapons to win.
As well as hefty packages, significant LTIP buy-outs running from £300K - £800K
are not uncommon when we're dealing with premium talent in this space.
In addition to having the right financial incentives, the right armoury in
this case also includes the 'intellectual challenge'; a strong articulation of
the complexities and nuances of the data landscape and how this relates to the
role accountabilities. This is critical in motivating candidates who ultimately
are motivated to break through new boundaries and navigate previously uncharted
waters in the field.
In terms of long term solutions, 'home-grown'
talent through interventions in academia is becoming a popular solution to help
grow and secure a strong pipeline of talent. Whilst academia has become a
popular sourcing ground for corporates looking to strengthen their data
leadership population, foremost technology and telco organisations are now
starting to sponsor talented graduates through their postgraduate
qualifications in order to attract and secure the best and brightest talent for
Therefore, to get ahead in the future businesses firstly
need to acknowledge and own the problem but more importantly must put in place
interventions now in order to stem the deficiency of skills later on. This
isn't an issue that can be solved purely by buying in talent right now just to
address immediate business issues, the problem must be looked at over the
longer-term as well. Not just programmes of acquisition but grass roots
programmes of development through universities and colleges, after all Big Data
won't go away and exploited correctly, will in fact become the life blood of
We live in a world full of data,
in fact full of Big Data, but data is only useful once analysed, interpreted
and delivered in an easily digestible form. No matter which sector we work in,
success seems to follow whomever keeps informed and ahead of changing demands.
Businesses need to put themselves in that position, by using Big Data to derive
the next trend, create the next 'thing' or deliver the next product or service
innovation. Whatever that might be in the future it needs real people to
capture, analyse and make sense of the data that's hitting us from all manner
of sources at an alarming and ever increasing rate. Without investing in the
right talent now businesses will only ever be challengers in their respective