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Data analytics and the CIO

The skills gap just got serious - especially when it comes to data analytics - warns Mark Samuels.

The oft-mentioned UK IT skills gap just got serious. Commentators have been talking for years about the severe lack of technology-literate talent available to British firms. Extended discussion, however, has done little to abate the shortfall and the skills deficit is now reaching critical levels.

Recent research by e-skills UK in conjunction with software specialist SAS suggests six out of 10 British firms have problems recruiting the talent they require. There are even problems when it comes to existing staff, with nine out of 10 workers suggesting they would benefit from additional training in regards to data analytics.

This requirement for information-aware workers is creating new demands for IT professionals. The e-skills report suggests about a third of the UK's larger organisations will implement analytics programmes in the next five years, pushing the demand for big data specialists up by 243 per cent to reach 69,000 individuals in total.

Professor Philip Treleaven from the University College of London says a large number of smaller firms have not necessarily recognised that, if they do not embrace big data, they will not be in business for much longer. He says the wake up call has filtered through to blue chip businesses, where a head of analytics role is increasingly important.

"Such an individual is an expert in thinking about how their organisation is data-driven, so they can support the different information needs of individuals across the business," he says. CIOs, as the fulcrum of all-things-informational in an organisation, should be at he heart of this data-driven decision-making.

But does the rise in demand for data analytics mean the CIO is no longer the executive who is best placed to deal with the digital requirements of the modern business? SAS chief executive Jim Goodnight says data is the strategic asset for modern businesses. Whoever takes responsibility for information must have experience of working with large amounts of data, and they must also act collaboratively.

"Whatever analytics executives are employed today must be tightly associated to line of business departments. IT isn't necessarily responsible for analytics. Line-of-business executives must lead the recruitment of analytics experts because they know where the demand, in terms of making the most of big data, actually lies," he says.

"Marketing executives, for example, are great at leading a business through the smart use of customer data. What must be created, inevitably, is a single unit of analytical expertise within the organisation that runs across all business interests. And when it comes to hiring new talent, firms should aim to hire people with good maths and science skills and train them."

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