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Why data scientist is the hottest tech job in retail

Sharon Goldman | April 14, 2016
It should be clear to every IT leader in every industry that data is eating the world. The retail sector is no different. And finding the people who can mine the gold out of the vast veins of data running through the retail world is proving particularly challenging.

They have been called “unicorns,” because they are so hard to find. Their position has been called the “sexiest job of the 21th century.” They are data scientists, a job which – in a world where big data now permeates every industry and requires the right people to extract knowledge and insights – not surprisingly topped Glassdoor’s list for the 25 Best Jobs in America for 2016. 

These hires are critical, say experts. “It’s essential for not only collecting, managing and analyzing supply chain data, but also for garnering advanced predictive analytics to help executives make more intuitive, accurate and reliable, allowing them to deliver goods and services ahead of the competition,” says Richard Howells, global vice president of extended supply chain at SAP. “It’s all about keeping up with the latest consumer trends and demands and ensuring that you have the right products, in the right place, at the right time to meet those demands.” 

Retailers are searching high and low for these data “geeks,” but the industry is far from alone in experiencing a shortfall. McKinsey projects there will be a 40-60 percent shortage of qualified applicants for these positions by 2018. However, retail has particular difficulty hiring for these positions for two reasons, says Tom Redd, global vice president of strategic communications at SAP Retail. “One is because most people do not think of retailers analyzing this data. Most people assume that retailers outsource the data analysis so they are not the ones doing the hiring,” he says. “The other one is that universities are just now gearing up to develop programs addressing this issue.” 

Retailers require rare data skills mix 

In today’s consumer-focused retail universe, which demands an increasing level of personalization and relevance, every retailer needs to understand shoppers through the use of data. According to Steven Skinner, senior vice president at Cognizant Business Consulting, Products and Resources Practice Leader, the reason data scientists are so difficult to find in retail is because of the rare mix of business acumen, technology skills, intuition, and math they need to bring to the role. 

“Retailers need to create curated, synchronized, relevant, and simplified customer engagement at every touch point in real time,” he says. “This means the underlying analytics are imperative to meeting that goal of increased customer relevance, reduced customer churn, and higher basket sizes, as well as assortments that are locally relevant.” 

Harnessing all of data and turning it into actionable information requires a specific skillset and expertise that hasn’t been required until now, adds Howells. “You need to understand how to analyze the data, but also the business processes and needs,” he says. “This person is critical for not only collecting, managing and analyzing supply chain data, but also for garnering advanced predictive analytics to help executives make more intuitive, accurate and reliable, allowing them to deliver goods and services ahead of the competition.” 

 

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