Data Skills Shortage, Yes, But Also a Creativity Shortage

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Looking for Data Scientists!

Deloitte recently issued a set of forward-looking predictions to the year ahead, and two threads run through the course of these predictions. First, there has been a huge surge of interest in employing data analytics to drive decision making at all levels, and second, there are precious few skilled individuals that can help make that happen.

Deloitte was specifically looking at the dearth of data scientists. There’s no doubt many talented individuals – either self-taught or coming out of universities – are being scarfed up by top-tier organizations. For mainstream companies seeking to get an edge in a highly competitive economy, data science skills may be few and far between. “By now it’s obvious that universities and colleges can’t crank out data scientists fast enough to keep up with business demands. And they certainly can’t produce experienced analysts from a two- or four-year program. Forty percent of respondents to a 2015 MIT Sloan Management Review survey say they have difficulty hiring analytical talent. Only 17 percent of “analytically challenged” firms say they have the talent they need. Among companies reported to be ‘analytics innovators,’ 74 percent said they had the analytics talent needed.”

The latest estimate is that businesses will need more that 1.5 million new data scientists to do everything they want to do with analytics. Deloitte calls this the “triumph of the scientists,” a play on the “triumph of the nerds” heralded in the 1990s and 2000s. The report’s authors see “a significant shift in how scientists are utilized within companies, and an increasing number of them are leading companies. This trend is poised to reshape the competitive landscape and the way managers work.”

The organization that is emerging is what the Deloitte commentators refer to as the “insight-driven organization.” What’s new here is that enterprises are beginning to go “beyond the selective use of insights to fuel decision-making in individual parts of the business. It deploys a tightly knitted combination of strategy, people, processes and data to drive competitive advantage and improved operations.”

Looking at it from that perspective, it’s going to take more than data science skills to provide leadership. Rather, it takes a blend of skills that includes business acumen, and ability to see market needs and opportunities. The bad news is this blend of skills will be almost impossible to find within single individuals. What will be needed are individuals with such skills who also can function as part of a cohesive team. The winning formula, then, is building a corporate culture that encourages strong bonding between individuals with these various skills. No amount of data scientists isn’t going to change the fortunes of a moribund organization that is averse to creative thinking or discourages innovation. That’s why business leaders need to be open to higher levels of creative thinking and a willingness to think in ways they have never thought before.

In fact, Deloitte talks about the “cross-pollination between science and business” that is necessary to make the transition to an insight-driven organization. “Already we are beginning to see techniques borrowed from the world of science and applied to business challenges,” the report’s authors observe. “In one example, an organization leveraged tools used by DNA researchers as the keys to unlocking insights buried in tens of thousands of emails.

These developments are in their nascent stages now, but there are plenty of signs of a coming explosion in shared analytics tools, techniques, and processes between the sciences and the business world.”