From entry-level to C-suite, why everyone needs data smarts now
Just like oil and gas powered the economies of the 20th and early 21st centuries, data is increasingly driving innovation and the global economy as we speed into an era of digital revolution. Whether it’s tech giants like Google, Amazon and Uber, or humble early-stage startups, organizations and their employees must embrace data—or risk falling behind the competition.
Companies that move to a data-first mindset hold an enormous competitive advantage. The quantitative value of data is quickly increasing in fields such as finance, manufacturing and marketing, among many others. In the healthcare industry, for example, the use of data analytics could lead to cost reductions of up to $450 billion in the U.S. market alone, according to a recent McKinsey study.
In fact, more than 90 percent of the data in existence has been created in the last two years alone. Within this data goldmine lies information coveted by businesses in their pursuit of better customer targeting, an improved understanding of consumer trends and reduced product development costs, among countless other potential applications.
“You need to understand what the core competencies of a data scientist are, if you need to use data science at all,” says Tom Sullivan, Ph.D., the chief data scientist at IRIS.TV, an entertainment company that applies machine learning algorithms to match the right video content to the right users based on their user profile. “It’s also about intuition and experience rather than just math and science.”
Even people-centric roles, such as those in human resources, require a basic understanding of data science to find and retain the right people given their organization’s growing data needs. This is especially important considering the ongoing battle for top talent—in the U.S. alone, there is an estimated 50 to 60 percent gap between data scientist supply and private sector demand for analytical talent.
Although hiring managers don’t need to know linear algebra, for instance, they do need to understand whether an open role requires a stronger statistical vs. machine-learning background and how to write a job listing to attract the right data-savvy candidate.
Taking courses is a great first step to gaining an understanding of how data can be used optimally at work. For non-technical professionals, courses like Introduction to Big Data, What is Data Science? and Executive Data Science offer an introduction to what data science can do. Courses such as Data Analysis Using Excel and Business Metrics for Data-Driven Companies teach how data science can actually be applied in business.
Business leaders who grasp the basics of data science, and more importantly its value, can harness it to make better decisions. By being able to effectively communicate the story that data is telling, leaders can better determine where data can help and advocate for it to be integrated into business strategy for more effective outcomes.
For example, a business leader in manufacturing who possesses a basic data science understanding can begin to pinpoint tangible risks and opportunities for cost savings. In manufacturing, predictive modeling can be used to map out supply chain delays and risks in the fulfillment process. Sensors and wireless technologies capture data at every stage of a product’s lifecycle, including factors as basic as the speed of the delivery truck, which could increase the odds of structural damage to the vehicle or cargo. By being able to collect and make sense of that data, a business leader will be better equipped to increase process efficiencies that will ultimately help the business save money and time.
An example like this one is just the beginning. As the amount of data we create daily accelerates, the value companies and organizations derive from it also increases.
Data today is a cutting-edge, storytelling and fact-finding tool that everyone should embrace. Those who make the effort to achieve even a basic understanding will be rewarded with more effective business results and greater career success.5