Banking on Big Data

Could analyzing little data mean more IT jobs?

9 April 2013

Big data is predicted to bring big career opportunities for IT professionals and boost the bottom line as more companies look for ways to make sense of their massive data streams. According to the 2012 State of IT Staffing Survey conducted by InformationWeek, 40 percent of respondents who cited big data and analytics as a top area of staffing growth expect personnel increases of 11 percent or more in the next two years. A report published in 2011 by McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, showed that by 2018 the United States could face a shortage of 140 000 to 190 000 people with deep analytical talent and a shortage of 1.5 million people capable of analyzing data in ways that enable businesses and organizations to make better decisions.

Governments are also betting on big data to build up their faltering economies and lower their unemployment rates. According to the article, “EU Big Data Roadmap Can Provide Jobs Boost,” published in the Irish Times on 1 April, a new European Union project, the Big Data Public Private Forum, will create a “requirements road map on how best to use the increasing amounts of data created in enterprises, governments, and everyday life.” The 11 companies, research institutions, and community initiatives from six European countries will identify key requirements for building a big data economy within various industries, including energy, finance, and transportation. Jason Ward, EMC’s Irish country manager says the project could be the beginning of a “huge boost for job creation in Ireland” and “a massive opportunity, both from a jobs perspective and a revenue perspective.”

While big data is most often associated with companies that already deal with information—like Facebook and Amazon—others like Ford Motor Co., United Parcel Service, and the InterContinental Hotels Group are using analytics for improving their operations, designing new products, and better understanding their customers. But commercial companies aren’t the only ones that need to sift through large sets of information. Research groups also need the ability to study trillions of bytes of data. In my article, “Better Analytical Tools for Genome Researchers,read how IEEE Fellow Srinivas Aluru is developing a toolbox that gives life scientists the ability to extract and apply the knowledge gleaned from collections of large data sets to accelerate progress in science and engineering research.

From all this big data activity, you’d think that every organization is busy collecting tons of data, but you’d be wrong. A report by Robert Half Technology released in January shows that 76 percent of the chief information officers it surveyed say their companies don't presently gather customer data such as demographics or buying habits. Asked whether they have sufficient personnel to access and generate strategic reports and insights from the customer data their organizations collect, 53 percent said no. John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, says that some firms may not collect customer data because they lack the systems and resources for high data analytics, or they may not have the budget to do so.

So what types of positions are in demand and how much do they pay? According to the Robert Half Technology 2013 Salary Guide, business intelligence analysts can earn between US $94 250 and $132 500. Data architects will see starting salaries from $104 250 to $143 500. And data warehouse analysts should be able to ask for between $93 500 to $126 500. Because big data analysis is such a new field, conventional titles might not always be used in help wanted ads. Articles I’ve read that include interviews with big data experts and human resources personnel cite these job titles: data scientist, data visualizer, and data change agent. Other companies are targeting application developers and software engineers. The skills most often mentioned include math, statistics, data analysis, and business analytics.

In an interview with Computerworld in January, Jack Phillips, CEO of the research firm International Institute of Analytics, says that data science rests on three legs: technological (IT, systems, hardware, and software) quantitative (statistics, math, modeling, and algorithms) and business (domain knowledge). “The professionals we see who are successful come from the quantitative side,” he says. “They know about the technology but they aren’t running the technology. They rely on IT to give them the tools.”

With unemployed engineers still responding to our “Are Engineers Really In Demand?” blog that they continue to struggle to find jobs in this shaky economy, do you think big data is the next big career boom or just the latest in a long string of disappointing job predictions?

Image: Henrik Jonsson/iStockphoto

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