Chengya Liang, right, is not your typical data scientist but the Silicon Valley product manager holds a post that is surely turning her b-school alums green with envy. Every MBA wants to work with big data. Chengya does so at Thermo Fisher Scientific, a $55 billion life sciences company, in San Francisco’s Bay Area.
She handles next-gen sequencing, used to decode DNA from patients, creating huge data sets that can be used for combating, in Chengya’s case, infectious diseases.
“This will be of huge benefit to our society,” says the MBA graduate of Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management, which is a leader in data analytics. “My MBA played a critical role in helping me transition from my medical research background,” Chengya says.
Her career highlights the explosion of big data-related jobs across sectors. Gartner, the technology advisory group, estimates big data had created 4.4 million jobs at 2015’s end.
Companies from Bain & Co to Google to are seemingly desperate for hires who’ve mastered business analytics. And they’re looking to b-schools to fill gaps in supply — by funding programs and teaching initiatives.
“Digital technology affects and transforms every aspect of business, from objects to people’s lives,” says Marc Vos, senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, which works with Bologna Business School. “The digital transformation cannot be resolved by connecting an app or a new site to an existing business; it is a much more radical change.”
“Data analytics is becoming a core skill for business people. These days, it should be like cleaning your teeth,” he says.
But it is not just the likes of BCG, which most MBAs would chop their right arm off to work at, that are snapping up analytical talent. The data revolution is touching every sector, according to KPMG. “There’s a lot of activity in the emerging big data area,” says Maeve Richard, director of careers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
Companies with fresh business models leveraging data are industry leaders, says Juan José, a former head of IBM Strategy & Analytics, who runs IE Business School’s business analytics masters. These firms are the top recruiters at elite business schools — Amazon and Google included. Chris Brown, a UK director at LinkedIn, says: “For business students, there are of course [job] opportunities at LinkedIn.”
When Pradeep Bhat was on the cusp of completing his MBA, he spent his summer months interning at IBM Business Analytics — he helped financial services firms use data science to drive sales.
“It was exciting for me to be a part of a new era of computing systems,” says the graduate of MIP Politecnico di Milano, whose data analytics course was critical to landing the job. “It helped me shift the director of my career,” Pradeep says.
Entrepreneurs are riding the data wave, too. Elsa Sze is a case in point. The Harvard Business School graduate launched Agora, a tech start-up giving the electorate a voice, which sells micro-advertising space to companies, based on anonymous sets of data gleaned from users.
“The most important data from a person are the values that define who you are,” Elsa says.
While opportunities clearly abound, the demand for business analytics expertise is outstripping supply, says Mark Kennedy, director of the KPMG Centre for Business Analytics at Imperial College.
McKinsey forecasts a 50%-60% gap between supply and demand for data science talent by 2018. Accenture puts the figure at 41%. “It’s what the recruiters are asking for,” says Gregory LaBlanc, faculty director at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
Business schools are taking note. “Every school is setting up a masters,” says Peter Fader, who leads Wharton’s Customer Analytics Initiative. Warwick Business School was an early adopter. Its masters in business analytics launched in 2008, in partnership with IBM and SAS. Today, the program is more popular than ever, says Juergen Branke, professor of operational research and systems.
“Today’s managers need not become data analysts, but they need to be aware of the opportunities and, perhaps even more importantly, the pitfalls of quantitative analysis techniques,” he says.
The trend for data science demand shows no sign of abating. IDC, a research firm, says the big data market will grow 23% year-over-year, reaching $46.3 billion by 2018.
Benoit Banchereau, director of development at HEC Paris, says analytical skills are increasingly valued because of the growing volumes of complex data businesses hold — even at board level.
“Technology and data analytics are deeply embedded in any top positions nowadays in major international companies,” he says.