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23rd of May 2018

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Embracing big data requires a cultural shift, but the results are worth the effort

Data science has become an indispensable tool in the growth strategy of the modern enterprise, transitioning from a luxury in the company ledger to a key component of strategic planning initiatives.

The booming popularity of data science spurred me to develop and found my own company several years ago. What initially began as a project on Udemy quickly ballooned after an enthusiastic initial reception underscored the demand for education in this field. 

As data science has become more widely accepted, I’ve noticed my students evolve from individuals who simply want to learn about data science to companies that want to implement major strategies fueled by data. Across the board, this demand shows no sign of slowing: A report by the American Statistical Association claims that about 70 percent of business leaders will prefer job candidates who have data science experience by 2021.

Generally, companies realize they need to embrace data science in a similar manner. They observe the valuable insights data can provide, and then they integrate it into as many strategies as possible. Sales is typically a great foothold for data science, but these valuable insights quickly invade marketing and other areas (depending on the type of company and industry).

Far from a frill, data has become essential. Like clearing smudges from a pair of eyeglasses, the insights gleaned from data provide companies with a clear view of more specific, effective, and valuable efforts. A 2016 McKinsey & Company survey of more than 1,000 sales organizations found that 53 percent of “high-performing” organizations are effectively using analytics.

With the advent of the internet, which allows businesses to reach customers all around the country — or even all around the world — in an instant, businesses are facing stiffer competition now than they ever have in decades past. The burgeoning data science industry offers a solution. Companies that embrace the field can unlock hidden benefits and gain a competitive edge over their rivals. Those that don't will not be around for much longer. In many ways, we’re poised to enter the age of data science. 

An intelligent investment 

Society is swimming in a sea of information, and the evolution of data science provides us with new and increasingly useful ways to examine this data. Data makes complicated decisions more informed and helps create more targeted initiatives. Knowing your customer, your competition, and the rest of the marketplace creates a refined effort that delivers increased value.

According to research from IBM, companies with efficient spending and well-developed analytics can achieve 20 times more profit growth and a 30 percent increase in return on invested capital. Key players have taken note: A 2014 study by Accenture and General Electric found that 84 percent of companies believe big data analytics will change the landscape of their industry within a year; nearly 90 percent of respondents said companies without an analytics strategy would lose market share.

In many sectors, this shift is already underway. A 2017 study by Dresner Advisory Services indicates 53 percent of companies are already taking advantage of big data analytics, up from a scant 17 percent in 2015. The industries leading the charge include telecommunications, financial services, technology, and healthcare. In areas like education, where big data has seen low adoption rates, survey respondents indicated they were considering how they could implement it in the future.

Technology has placed us at the edge of where opportunity meets necessity regarding data science and analytics. For many years, companies have struggled to gather the kinds of data-driven insights that are now available in seconds through new technologies. And now, thanks to the evolution of data science as a discipline, businesses are beginning to put new methods into place that help them scour that data for the most valuable information possible. Not only are we now able to quickly and accurately keep track of available data, but we can also finally extract valuable information from it. 

Evolve or be extinct 

Unfortunately, as with any major technological shift, some businesses have had a difficult time effectively transitioning to the era of data science. Many executives will "see the light" on data science after reading an article or attending a conference, but many of these same executives have a hard time actually implementing a successful data strategy at their companies. That's because recognizing the importance of data is only the first step; successfully embracing it requires an entirely different mindset. While a report from NewVantage Partners indicates that about 85 percent of companies have implemented programs to promote data-driven cultures, a sobering 37 percent have been successful.

Effective data scientists — and the companies who employ them — need to have a curious mindset. That might sound cliche, but it's the truth. Effective data scientists will always hunger for more information, even when that information reveals an ugly truth about the company. There's a huge amount of information out there, and curiosity is what compels people to make sense of it all and pull out valuable insights. Businesses need people who are motivated to find out where to look, where to poke, what information relates to other information, etc.

It might seem unnecessary to some, but there will be consequences for companies that cannot keep up with big data. Dresner Advisory Services suggests that 56 percent of C-suite executives expect to invest more money in big data over the next three years. This increased spending will be significant for 15 percent of respondents, and about 75 percent of them report their company plans to restructure to take advantage of the opportunities provided by data.

Technology allows us to track incredible quantities of data in new and exciting ways, and it’s empowering us to more efficiently mine for insights. It can permeate any market, and the results are broadly applicable across most industries. As big data continues to infiltrate every sector, companies quick to adopt data science will lead the pack and force the rest of their competitors to follow suit. Data is here to stay, and early adopters will enjoy the greatest gains.  

Kirill Eremenko, Founder and CEO of SuperDataScience 

Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock

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