Business Folk Need and Want Big Data — The Issue Is Teaching Them

On the surface level, Big Data isn’t a difficult concept to understand: the more data a business collects, the more data it can use to understand its consumer audience, to build effective products, and to predict successful marketing campaigns. Yet, almost as soon as discussions begin about how to collect Big Data, perform analyses, and develop data-driven plans, business professionals start to drift away.

Big Data is incredibly important in the current era of business, but because data seems highly technical, few business-minded people want to bother acquiring that knowledge and skill. In the interest of harnessing the power of Big Data, those skilled with data need to train business professionals in the ways of data – or else replace them with business professionals willing to learn.

A Case for Data Education

In 2013, roughly two-thirds of businesses were interested in investing in Big Data tech, and in the intervening five years, jobs for those educated in Big Data have grown by more than 25 percent. In fact, the field is likely to grow another 28 percent by 2020. Yet, neither businesses nor universities have been proficient in training professionals for these jobs. The United States is suffering a serious deficit of data workers: Not only are hundreds of thousands of skilled data jobs unfilled, but millions of management positions are filled by professionals who lack the analytical know-how to make effective, data-driven decisions.

It is unlikely that businesses will find the right candidates for data jobs in existing job applicant pools. The reason for this is that Big Data isn’t easy; it requires an abundance of skills as well as familiarity with a business’s goals and data needs. Not only would a new hire need to understand statistics, data modeling, analytics, information technology, computer science, and other hard skills, but they would need to swiftly become accustomed to the brand, importance, and organization of their employer. Then, the new hire would need to become comfortable explaining intricate results with upper-level decision-makers, which is often easier said than done considering their notable lack of experience with Big Data.

It is much easier and less expensive to train existing professionals – especially professionals in decision-making, management positions – in Big Data. Even with a data department performing research and compiling results, upper-level staff need to understand how to ask the right questions, develop the right projects, and understand results correctly to adequately utilize Big Data. Though education might take away from other business concerns for the short-term, in the long-term, formal training will ultimately yield significant benefits for businesses. The only concern is where and how professionals will find the data training they need.

University Responses

For too long, universities were unable to provide sufficient data training to meet businesses’ growing interests. Though a variety of science fields have long provided passive education in gathering and compiling data, specific data degrees were lacking. Fortunately, in a matter of years, that has changed substantially: Now, at the bachelor and masters level, there are several degree and certificate programs addressing the widespread demand for greater data training.

Yet, because these programs have arisen so swiftly, few schools agree how to house data analytics programs, how to structure the programs, and how to work with specific organizations seeking targeted education. Roughly half of all data programs are built into business and management schools. Thankfully, that means interested professionals can take business classes online to gain a foundation in data studies. However, some universities place data programs into other schools, such as engineering, computer science, or statistics. It is likely that programs housed in schools other than business aren’t necessarily targeting skills that business professionals need, so organizations should consider reviewing curricula or researching career paths of these programs’ grads before enrolling any workers.

The best strategy for data training, especially as it pertains to existing professionals employed at potentially data-driven businesses, is to partner data companies with universities to ensure students receive the most up-to-date knowledge and skill that correlates directly to their needs. Professors should begin by teaching the goals and capabilities of Big Data, especially in the business sector. Then, hard skills like statistics and data modeling should be closely tied to real-world cases that professionals would conceivably encounter. To professionals, the theory is less important than the practical application, so this type of training is ideal.

Big Data is important, but more important is an organization filled with workers who understand and apply Big Data principles. Though teaching Big Data can be a struggle, it is important for organizations and universities alike to address the need for data training in business.




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