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How many data scientists does the world really need?

Sharon Florentine | Nov. 8, 2013
The buzz is all about 'Big Data' and how best to use it to generate actionable intelligence. To do this, companies will need to hire loads of highly trained, highly paid data scientists -- or will they?

The tech media buzz surrounding big data suggests that organizations should invest huge sums into hiring and retaining highly skilled (and highly paid) data scientists. But you might not want to submit that graduate school application just yet.

In reality, most firms will address their big data challenges by leveraging data analytics technology and training employees they already have to turn big data into smart data.

Small Businesses, Big Data
For many smaller and mid-sized firms, the hype surrounding big data doesn't resonate, and probably won't translate into hiring, because the challenges those businesses face aren't truly related to Big Data, says Tim Herbert, director of research at CompTIA.

"A lot of companies don't actually have big data problems — they have smaller challenges," Herbert says. Many of these data challenges crop up between IT and other departments such as marketing, finance, and business operations, as SMBs uncover their true business objectives and figure out how to make raw data into actionable intelligence, he says.

"While they need to find ways to take their business data and translate that into business intelligence, most of these SMBs are looking at data analytics and technologies like Hadoop and realizing they don't need anything as huge, powerful and scalable," Herbert says.

CompTIA's second annual "Big Data Insights and Opportunities"study, released last month, shows that many of these SMBs will instead invest in training and education for their existing employees rather than hire a formally trained data scientist.

"Hiring these costly, highly trained, highly educated data scientists just isn't practical for most businesses, so they'll put their money into what resources they already have," Herbert says.

In most cases, Herbert says, CompTIA's study found that most SMBs will rely on existing business analysts and financial analysts, though these folks will need additional technical training, he says.

In many businesses, this is already happening. According to the study, sales and research departments saw their participation in big data-related initiatives climb from 17 percent and 13 percent, respectively, to 27 percent and 25 percent.

Based on these numbers, it seems big data already is moving from its niche in the IT department and into many other business units and departments, Herbert says, but that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

"Most companies may not realize that they have to first invest in making sure their data's in a format that can best be analyzed to derive value," Herbert says. "Finding the technology to do that is the easy part — it's finding and nurturing the analytical talent and expertise that's hard, and that will take some more time," he says.

Large Enterprises, Larger Data Challenges
Initially, says Roger Gaskell, CTO of Kognitio, the demand for data scientists will be higher at larger enterprises as these organizations try and squeeze every last drop of value out of their data and their sophisticated business intelligence solutions.

 

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