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19th of November 2018

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Data skills - Many hands make light work in a world awash with data

While the transformation to a data-driven culture needs to come from the top of the organisation, data skills must permeate through all areas of the business.

Rather than being the responsibility of one person or department, assuring data availability and integrity must be a team sport in modern data-centric businesses. Everyone must be involved and made accountable throughout the process.

The biggest challenge for enterprises is to effectively enable greater data access among the workforce while maintaining oversight and quality.

The evolution of the data team

Most businesses are recognising the value and opportunities that data creates. There is an increased understanding that data needs to be handled and processed efficiently. For some companies, this has led to the formation of new departments made up of data analysts and data scientists. 

The data team is led by a Chief Data Officer (CDO), a role that is set to become key to business success in the digital era, according to recent research from Gartner. While earlier iterations of roles within the data team centred on data governance, data quality and regulatory issues, the focus of the role is shifting. Data analysts and scientists are now expected to contribute and deliver a data-driven culture across the company, while also driving business value. According to the Gartner survey, the skills required for roles within the data team have expanded and continue to evolve to include data management, analytics, data science, ethics, and digital transformation.

Businesses are clearly recognising the importance of the data team’s functions and are making significant investments in it. Office budgets for the data team increased by an impressive 23 per cent between 2016 and 2017 according to Gartner. What’s more, some 15 per cent of the CDOs that took part in the study revealed that their budgets were more than $20 million for their departments, compared with just 7 per cent who said the same in 2016. The increasing popularity and evolution of these new data roles has largely been driven by GDPR in Europe and by new data protection regulations in the US. Moreover, the evidence suggests that the position will be essential for ensuring the successful transfer of data skills throughout businesses of all sizes.

Managing the data skills shortage

Data is an incredibly valuable resource, but businesses can only unlock its full potential if they have the talent to analyse that data and produce actionable insights that help them to better understand their customers’ needs. However, companies are already struggling to cope with the big data ecosystem due to a skills shortage and the problem shows little sign of improving. In fact, Europe could see a shortage of up to 500,000 IT professionals by 2020, according to the latest research from consultancy firm Empirica.

The rapidly evolving digital landscape is partly to blame as the skills required have changed radically in recent years. The required data science skills needed at today’s data-driven companies are more wide-ranging than ever before. The modern workforce is now required to have a firm grasp of computer science including everything from databases to the cloud, according to strategic advisor and best-selling author Bernard Marr. In addition, analytical skills are essential to make sense of the ever-increasing data gathered by enterprises, while mathematical skills are also vital as much of the data captured will be numerical as this is largely due to IoT and sensor data. These skills must also sit alongside more traditional business and communication skills, as well as expanding to skills beyond such as the ability to be creative and being able to adapt to developing technologies.

Indeed, the need for these skills is set to increase, with IBM predicting that the number of jobs for data professionals will rise by a massive 28 per cent by 2020. The good news is that businesses are already recognising the importance of digital skills in the workforce, with the role of Data Scientist taking the number one spot in Glassdoor’s Best Jobs in America for the past three years, with a staggering 4,524 positions available in 2018.

Data training employees

Data quality management is a task that extends across all functional areas of a company. It therefore makes sense to provide the employees in the specialist departments with tools to ensure data quality in self-service. Cloud-based tools that can be rolled out quickly and easily in the departments are essential. These tools give companies the right resources that gradually improves their data quality, whilst also increasing the value of their data.

While the number of data workers triples and as we begin to witness the effect of GDPR, businesses must think of good data management as a team sport. Investing in the Chief Data Officer role and data skills now will enable forward-thinking businesses to reap the rewards, both in the short-term and further into the future.

Jean-Michel Franco, Senior Director, Data Governance Solutions, TalendImage Credit: StartupStockPhotos / Pixabay

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