How to build a career in big data & analytics


Analytics talent is in short supply and is expected to be so for the next five years.

The big data and analytics profession is coming of age, as a whole. Three significant trends have fuelled the growth of the big data and analytics industry as well as the demand for skilled professionals across levels.

The key trend is of course the explosion of data availability over the last decade. Today, we have both trend and transaction data widely available and accessible for an analytic team to analyse and proffer solutions across sales, marketing, risk, pricing, procurement, finance and all other functions. Apart from this internal data, the widespread usage of social media in business has redefined the way enterprises approach customer engagement and business growth strategies.

With social media turning into a mainstream form of communication, people are providing detailed information about themselves, their preferred products and services, particulars about their daily activities and other important aspects about their personality.

By tapping into social data and implementing analytics solutions, organisations can harness the power of Web 2.0 analytics in order to stand out in today’s competitive marketplace, improve brand awareness, and increase customer experience and loyalty —all of which are likely to result in an improved bottom line. As per a study conducted by the International Data Company (IDC), the amount of digital data generated globally is expected to further increase 44 times in the next decade.

The second major trend is the leap in computing availability and development of new tools in the software space, which allow the manipulation of large volumes of data in short time frames to enable ‘real time’ analytics in customer engagements. This also facilitates the models to evolve on a dynamic basis and become both self-correcting, and therefore, more accurate over time to gain more acceptance among the end users.

The third big demand driver is a substantial reduction in data storage costs. In the last one decade, the cost of data storage has come down by 99 per cent. It has encouraged more companies to store more data, which, in turn, increases the desire to unlock the value of the data through technology platforms and skilled professionals. With cloud computing’s demonstrated track record of cost savings and efficiencies, the cost of data storage is expected to further decrease.

Given the exciting possibilities that come with the usage of big data and analytics, coupled with the declining costs of development and deployment of analytical solutions, more and more organisations are turning to analytics to improve business performance. However, the analytics talent pool with requisite knowledge and skills, is still in short supply and the gap is expected to increase further in the next five years.

Vivek Agarwal

According to a Mckinsey report, by 2018, the United States alone will face a shortage of 140,000–190,000 people with deep analytical skills representing 40 per cent of the total talent demand in the country.

This talent shortage along with a significant cost arbitrage opportunity is driving the analytics outsourcing industry in India, which is growing at 25 per cent and is expected to cross $ 1 Billion by 2015. There is another study by Gartner, which suggests that more than 4 million professionals will be required to support big data in 2015.

The big question, however, is how organisations are going to find all these people and what can people do to build a successful career in this industry. While a significant percentage of these new jobs can be performed by people with traditional technical skills and basic orientation on new emerging technologies, the real challenge for organisations and the big opportunity for people lie in high-end jobs that require a combination of business knowledge, analytical skills and communication ability.

From the organisations’ perspective, we are witnessing significant investment in developing the human capital by reskilling existing people and training raw talent, as fresh supply is in shortage. We are also observing the emergence of specialised curriculum in mainstream academic institutions, as well as growth in niche providers imparting analytics skills and courses to capitalize on this opportunity. However, the real impetus will come through the initiatives taken by people who are keen on building a rewarding career in this growing industry. I have the following suggestions for such people:

Develop a solid foundation: First of all, a person needs to have a solid foundation in his/her chosen area of expertise. We recruit people from various streams like economics, mathematics, statistics, operations research and computer science as these skills form the basic foundation of our analytics teams.

Gain domain knowledge: Analytics professionals must be well-versed with the business domain, especially in mapping out constraints and objectives that are inherent to a country/ business to develop practical business solutions. Often, selection of right variables is more important than the mathematical techniques to discover true insights. In our experience, to develop highly accurate models, mathematical techniques alone are not sufficient and we need to use our industry insights to deliver the solution that works.

Acquire necessary soft skills: While recruiting, organisations including Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) look for deduction ability, logical thinking, and communication skills that are critical in examining a problem from multiple dimensions and conveying the findings to decision-makers in a compelling and convincing manner. It is also absolutely vital to have an innate sense of curiosity and skepticism of conventional wisdom. These are vital behavioural skills in addition to the knowledge of tools and algorithms.

Continuous learning: Unlike more traditional data fields, which often require specialisation in few tools, developing big data and analytics solutions requires a broader knowledge base and the ability to learn new tools quickly.

(The author is senior vice president and business head, analytics and technology solutions, emerging markets –Middle East, Africa and South Asia, Dun & Bradstreet.)

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