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Why big data means job growth for non-data professionals

Posting in Science

Big data is everywhere, being generated by people using transactional tools, social media and collaboration tools, as well as pouring in from applications, log files and machines. Recognizing its potential to analyze and predict trends, enterprises want at this data. The problem is, there just aren't enough skilled professionals adept at transforming this data into business insights -- and we're not just talking about data scientists.

Photo credit: Joe McKendrick

For specialties such as data scientists, John Platt recently observed that the gap in demand and big data skills is huge: the U.S. alone faces a shortfall of 140,000 to 190,000 big data professionals (McKinsey & Company) in the next few years, and more than four million IT jobs worldwide will be needed to support big data (Gartner).

In the long run, it isn't just data science, programming or statistical skills that are needed, though people with these skills are laying the foundation for turning rows of data into actionable insights. The rise of big data requires a range of abilities for data-driven organizations. Professionals of all stripes who understand the power of data, and how it can be applied, may have the edge in enterprises.

For example, the entire marketing profession is also being turned on its head -- creating a growing demand for marketing pros who can work with big data sets. Enterprises will increasingly need managers and professionals who know how to sift through and respond to social media data, as well as know how to target customers in a fine-grained way.

There is a whole class of information specialists -- from librarians to business analysts -- who are adept at the archiving and retrieval of needed information that will play an increasingly vital role to decision-makers.

There are also skill areas not typically associated with tech or data that can play a role in the big data analytics revolution. InformationWeek's Doug Henschen recently spoke with Josh Sullivan from Booz Allen Hamilton, who provides some interesting suggestions as to the skills that will help enterprises realize their big data strategies. For example, physicists and music majors can play a role in turning data into information.

For example, music majors offer "amazing creativity and quantitative skills," Sullivan is quoted as saying. They may be effective at "mashing together data in much the same way that composers might experiment with combinations of instruments." Booz-Allen has actually worked with such people on big data projects. In one instance, an airline profitably mashed "data on schedules, routes, fares, destinations and historical passenger loads together with sports schedules, convention dates, school seasonality, people movement by age segment, and social media data."

In his article, Platt quotes Richard Rodts, manager of global analytics academic programs at IBM, who spells out the special combination of skills needed to be successful at big data: "There are the very human attributes, such as a knack for both strategic and creative thinking, the ability to collaborate with colleagues across the business, and strong communication skills that enable you to convey data-driven findings to senior decision-makers in a compelling way."

Ultimately, a successful data-driven culture does not come from simply having a lot of data -- rather, it's the product of forward-looking management that is willing to experiment with new uses of its data, and recognizes the power of creativity and innovation.

— By on August 11, 2013, 1:33 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure