Preparing for the Big Data Deluge

By Samuel Greengard

These days, discussions about big data and analytics are inescapable. Virtually every field—from medicine and financial services to manufacturing and science—is being redefined and rewired by the ability to put ever-growing data sets, both structured and unstructured, to work.

And we’ve only just begun. The deluge of data will become a flood in the months and years ahead. Cisco Systems predicts the number of Internet-connected devices will reach about 15 billion by 2015, which is twice the world’s population. The figure is expected to rise to 40 billion by 2020. And Cisco anticipates that 99 percent of all devices will eventually be connected. Of course, these devices will generate exponential increases in data volume.

But extracting diamonds from all these coal lumps isn’t particularly easy, as most business and IT leaders have already learned. It takes more than some valuable nuggets of data and a well-defined business purpose to transform all the bits and bytes into useful information and knowledge.

Enter the role of data analysts and data consultants. McKinsey & Company predicted in 2011 that the U.S. then needed somewhere between 140,000 and 190,000 workers with “deep analytical” knowledge and approximately 1.5 million managers with at least a basic understanding of data issues. McKinsey noted that big data “will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation and consumer surplus as long as the right policies and enablers are in place.”

Unfortunately, many organizations are falling woefully behind the data curve. McKinsey Global Institute also projects a 50 percent to 60 percent gap between supply and requisite demand of deep analytic talent by 2018. In other words, there will be a lot of organizations drawing a short straw…and a lot of businesses left reeling. Some of the industries most likely to be hit hard: aerospace, health-care and pharmaceuticals, engineering, computer systems design, insurance and actuarial, educational services, and electronic components manufacturing.

The reality is that no organization or field is untouched by big data. CIOs must grab the reins and carve out new roles and jobs that plug into data-analysis capabilities. This means finding individuals with a different perspective and understanding of business—along with an ability to view problems and challenges in a more creative way. While the need for data scientists, mathematicians and statisticians hasn’t gone away, it’s also necessary to attract experts in psychographics, sociology, cultural anthropology and other non-IT disciplines.

In the years ahead, building a better algorithm will require far more than a-data-by-the-numbers approach.

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight blog post, “Are You Staffing for Failure?”, click here.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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