How To Prepare and Develop Talent for Big Data


Companies collect mountains of data, but often don't use the information in any useful way. Jim Zimmermann, Director, Skillsoft Books24x7 explains how companies that have invested in analyzing their Big Data repositories have often discovered information that have a large impact on the direction of their businesses.—Jennifer Bosavage, editor

What’s the big deal about Big Data and Big Analytics? All successful organizations collect lots of data – about customers, purchases, manufacturing, supply chain, employees, their web sites, etc. – and the amount of data is increasing exponentially (for example, location-based data, RFID transactions, medical records, etc). Although some of this data is structured, there is an increasing amount of unstructured data such as free-form text, images, videos, audio, etc. Much of the data that has been collected is just sitting somewhere waiting for someone to decide if it may have value to an organization.

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A recent McKinsey Global Institute study, “Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity,” defines Big Data as “datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze.” Big Analytics is the process of analyzing Big Data to derive value for the business. Big Data and Big Analytics have been successfully employed in both the private and public sector to use the data to derive business value. Organizations that have invested in analyzing their Big Data repositories have often discovered information or trends that have a profound impact on the future direction of their organizations.

The McKinsey study, continues: “Our research finds that data can create significant value for the world economy, enhancing the productivity and competitiveness of companies and the
public sector and creating substantial economic surplus for consumers. For instance, if U.S. health care could use big data creatively and effectively to drive efficiency and quality, we estimate that the potential value from data in the sector could be more than $300 billion in value every year, two-thirds of which would be in the form of reducing national health care expenditures by about 8 percent. In the private sector, we estimate, for example, that a retailer using big data to the full has the potential to increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent. In the developed economies of Europe, we estimate that government administration could save more than €100 billion ($149 billion) in operational efficiency improvements alone by using big data.”

The study finds “A shortage of the analytical and managerial talent necessary to make the most of big data is a significant and pressing challenge and one that companies and policy makers can begin to address in the near term. The United States alone faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts to analyze big data and make decisions based on their findings.”

The push toward Big Data and Big Analytics fuels an organization’s need for advanced technology-based analytics tools as well as top analytical talent to perform analysis of the data and to apply the findings to produce improved business results. Analysts point to a need to build an internal analytical culture, and they claim that despite early successes, analytics are not integral to decision-making processes in most organizations.

NEXT: Books on Big Data

So where can companies go to acquire Big Data talent?

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of talent available to hire. That's partly because Big Data has only recently exploded on the scene as an area that demands attention. The scarcity of talent is also due to a lack of focus on data analytics in higher education. Data analytics is not just an IT discipline – it requires significant mathematical and statistical skills.

Although several institutions of higher learning are rushing to add additional coverage of these areas in their curricula, it will take years before Big Data talent starts flowing out of higher learning institutions in volumes that can begin to address even current needs. Firms such as IBM and SAP have begun working with universities across the globe to help them establish programs that will help fulfill the need for data scientists, data analytics professionals, and data-savvy managers. But creating new educational programs is only a first step - students also need to be encouraged to participate in the programs by making them aware of the opportunities in Big Data, including an understanding of possible career paths and the financial rewards of tackling Big Data opportunities.

Since there isn’t a ready supply of available talent today, many companies are being forced to look at ways to develop the talent in-house. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of excellent books being published on Big Data that can help existing employees become familiar with Big Data and Analytics. Here are some currently available titles, with more coming from leading publishers over the coming months: (Note: The links below take you to the Amazon pages for these titles. These titles are also available for web-based reading via Skillsoft’s Books24x7 ITPro collection)

Statistical and Machine-Learning Data Mining: Techniques for Better Predictive Modeling and Analysis of Big Data, Second Edition – by Bruce Ratner, Auerbach Publications,2012 (544 pages)
Social Network Mining, Analysis and Research Trends: Techniques and Applications - by I-Hsien Ting, Tzung-Pei Hong and Leon S.L. Wang (eds), IGI Global, 2012 (429 pages)
Decision Management Systems: A Practical Guide to Using Business Rules and Predictive Analytics - by James Taylor , IBM Press, 2012 (316 pages)
Data Mining: Practical Machine Learning Tools and Techniques, Third Edition - by Ian H. Witten, Eibe Frank and Mark A. Hall, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2011 (665 pages)
• Data Mining Techniques: For Marketing, Sales, and Customer Relationship Management, Third Edition - by Gordon S. Linoff and Michael J.A. Berry, John Wiley & Sons, 2011 (888 pages)

A number of Web sites educate about Big Data. Many of those sites and training courses are provided by Big Data and cloud computing vendors such as EMC and Cloudera, but there is also an interesting community site called Big Data University. Big Data University is an “online educational site run by new and experienced Hadoop, Big Data and DB2 users who want to learn, contribute with course materials, or look for job opportunities. The site includes free and fee-based courses delivered by experienced professionals and teachers.” The site is currently in beta mode but shows a lot of promise.

If your firm has a need for Big Data expertise, now is the time to start working on a Big Data talent development plan. You should at least advertise your interest in Big Data skills - you might just get lucky and land one of the few available people. In parallel, you should also be identifying internal resources that you can train – either through university programs, vendor programs, or by taking advantage of some of the great books on the subject.