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The Real Challenge of Big Data Will Be Very Human

by Dave Hannon

June 29, 2012

By Dave Hannon

The benefits of leveraging big data are becoming clearer every day. There are countless examples of how turning big data into business intelligence can benefit businesses of all kinds. You can read about the innovative things SAP users like Kraft and Medtronic are doing with data and business intelligence, leveraging technologies like SAP HANA and SAP BusinessObjects to streamline this process of turning piles of data into actionable business intelligence. 

But it's becoming increasingly clear that the talent -- the people, the human beings -- required to turn that data into business intelligence may be where many companies hit a roadblock. Earlier this month, Capgemini released the results of a survey of more than 600 C-level executives that showed more than half (54%) of companies cite access to talent as a key impediment to making the most of dig data, followed by the barrier of organizational silos (51%). We don't have the right people and the people we have aren't working together to leverage data most effectively.

According to the survey, 85% of respondents say the real challenge in big data is not the volume of data but the ability to analyze and act on the data in real time.

According to the report: "Data silos are a perennial problem, and one which the business process reengineering revolution of the 1990s failed to resolve...Arguably a longer term challenge is the lack of skilled analysts. Technology firms are working with universities to help train tomorrow’s data specialists, but it is unlikely that supply will meet demand soon."

In the report, Bill Ruh, vice president, software at GE, goes so far as to say, “There is going to be a war for this kind of talent in the next five years.” (I can see Jon Reed wincing at my use of the term).

So it's people, not technology, that may slow the success of big data most. And the question is, do you have a plan for this? You need to have an idea of:

1. How much talent you will need in these areas
2. Where that talent is going to come from

If your long-term plan to find this talent hinges on the idea that millennials will be more into this data stuff than us old coots, you might want to read the results of this CompTIA survey that found 97% of teens and young adults report loving or liking technology, but just 18% report a definitive interest in a career in IT. Not so promising if your plan is "wait for them to come to me."

However that same survey also points out that more teens and young adults show interest in IT careers when presented with specific career options they might not have known exi sted. “Mobile app developers, digital content curators, ethical hackers and big data analysts are just a few examples of the career options available today that weren’t present just a few years ago,” the report says. “Teens and young adults face a bewildering set of options.”

So they're interested in being a data analyst, when they're exposed to it. Which means (stay with me here) the broader, industrywide, long-term plan must involve more education about what career options are now available as a result of big data and business intelligence.

By the way, there are some universities with programs to take a good look at for recruiting data analysts including NorthwesternFordham, and Yale

But in the short term you need some data analysts in house, like, yesterday. So educating your existing staffers and new recruits is the best option to get that expertise in house. For SAP users, there are some options in these areas, both on the technical and business side. For starters, check out this post from Molly Folan, the conference producer for our upcoming SAP HANA Seminar. In the post, Molly provides a table that can be used to perform a skills gap analysis and understand where your organization might need to build up its expertise.

And in terms of educating your team, you'll definitely want to keep an eye on our sister site, Data Informed,  which is pumping out all manner of useful information on big data, from technology to skills and everything in between.

And the one common thread you'll notice between all of these solutions -- they're all very human. They involve people training people. Technology is certainly the tool to leverage the data, but you wouldn't give a jack hammer to a fourth grader. A powerful tool is only useful in the hands of someone that knows how to use it. 

How do you plan to meet the demand for analytics talent? I've love to hear your suggestions, including areas or topics you need more information and training on in these areas. 

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