Surge In Big Data Demand Drives New MBA Career Prospects

Across the business world a data-driven revolution is emerging, but there is a dearth of big data talent. Business schools are helping to fill the gap - and MBA students should take advantage.

For Dean Bernard Garrette, big data was booming. The HEC Paris MBA professor could hardly keep up with demand from the many managers at the French business school seeking new knowledge on data marketing, analytics technologies and consumer buying trends. HEC had already sanctioned a specialist intelligence marketing course and a bevy of big data programs for executives. But a new partnership with IBM, the technology giant, was to be added to the mix.

“The development of analytics skills for business and management students has become a necessity,” he said. “It deals with mixing the general MBA’s business training to in-depth analytics and data interpretation skills.”

Across the business world, a data driven revolution is emerging. Dean Bernard is just one of a legion of professors who are ramping up big data education in response to a demand for everything from business solution architects to chief data officers.

The next generation of management leaders are being groomed for data specialist roles as some of the world’s largest companies adapt to a faster, more technical way of doing business. In the year since France’s prestige MBA revamped its course to cater for big data, HEC Paris has seen a surge in demand. MBA students have been banking on skills such as strategy simulation modelling, data visualization and strategy analytics.

“This course proved hugely popular,” says Dean Bernard. “Students with an education in business analytics are seen by many recruiters to bring added value to the workforce,” he adds.

Big data’s growing influence has been charted in a recent study by the consultancy McKinsey & Company. The report focused on five main domains – healthcare, retail, manufacturing, personal-location technology and the public sector – and found that big data can generate substantial value in each.

McKinsey estimates that if the US healthcare sector adopted data to drive efficiency, the industry would generate $300 billion in value each year, and US retailers can increase net margins by 60%. In Europe, governments can save more than $149 billion using big data, says McKinsey, and consumer businesses can net $600 billion in surplus by capturing personal-location data.

Big data is now billed as the next frontier for businesses. “It is very valuable for consumer businesses… And has had a profound effect on the B2B environment – it has allowed these businesses to think about a service rather than a product,” says Dr Guy Champniss, an expert in consumer behaviour and professor of marketing at Henley Business School.

“It gives you a granularity and a real time-ness to understanding your customers that hasn’t existed before. And it’s cheap – and getting cheaper by the minute,” he adds.

Barclays Bank just appointed industry heavyweight Usama Fayyd. The tech-banker and former Nasa scientist was previously Yahoo’s chief data officer in what was the first instance of a major corporation creating such a role. Struggling British supermarket chain Tesco appointed Michael Comish as its group digital officer in a bid to bolster its digital offering and reverse a slide in sales. Michael, a serial digital entrepreneur who founded Blinxbox in 2006 before selling it to Tesco in 2011, is based in the retailer’s new digital campus in Farringdon, London.

Last year, just 7% of companies with an annual turnover of $250 million or more had chief data or digital officers, according to IT services firm Gartner. But by 2015, they expect the number to have tripled – to one in every four of the biggest company’s going down the data route.

The speed with which firms have hired executive-level data specialists is defining the next generation of managers who will lead them. This adoption has given rise to a feast of career opportunities in data.

It is thought that MBA students, already analytical by nature, are well placed to capitalize on this demand. Dr Guy says: “I absolutely think that – the more quantitatively-minded MBA students, which is a lot of MBA students.” But he adds that it is also important to have a qualitative view.

There is an astonishing shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data: McKinsey estimates that by 2018, the US will have a dearth of nearly 200,000 people with deep analytical skills, and 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use big data to make effective decisions.

“Data is perceived as the new oil that fuels the digital economy. Data-related roles are already on the rise,” says Mithun Sridharan, managing director of BlueOS, a strategic marketing firm which offers big data and analytics services.

“Currently, there is a dearth of professionals with the required skills, and as more companies board the big data bandwagon, the demand for big data and analytics professionals will only increase.”

Business schools recognize the gap. Many of the leading MBA provides are rolling out big data courses or incorporating data classes into their curriculums. But Dean Bernard does not wish to create “data scientists”; HEC aims to fill the gap between data collectors and those that use the data to make management decisions.

“Training in big data does not necessarily create a top consultant or marketer; it is how a student uses these skills to complement their existing skill-set that will get a student noticed by top recruiters,” he said.

Yet businesses are even paying for their managers to take short, customized executive education courses so that they may become big data specialists within their companies.

Inge Kerkloh-Devif, executive director of global business development at HEC Executive Education, said that big data was an up-and-coming area, at a time when executive courses are experiencing resurgence. She added: “I think there will be a big need in training executives for strategic decisions on big data.”

It is an understandable investment. Businesses are able to hoard vast amounts of customers’ data, which proves particularly valuable for marketers and ecommerce companies.

Mithun says: “They require systematic analysis to derive insights on what makes their products and customers tick. Online marketing and big data are turning out to be sources of competitiveness for many organisations, so companies place immense value in big data.”

The potential financial savings are huge. McKinsey reckons that the manufacturing sector will see up to a 50% decrease in the production development and assembly costs, and up to a 7% reduction in working capital, if it adopted big data. And global personal location data, driven by smartphones and tablets, is predicted to add an eye-watering $100 billion in revenue for service providers, and a further $700 billion value to end users.

Dean Bernard says: “With more in-depth analysis of consumer trends and habits, a company can alter its service or offering accordingly. A company which can offer this personalized service is to have a clear market advantage against its competitors, as customers will be attracted by a service that fits their specific needs and lifestyle.”

But McKinsey points out there are many obstacles to firms using big data to enhance their business. Access to data is critical – companies will increasingly need to integrate information from multiple data sources, often from third parties, and the incentives have to be in place to enable this.

Policies related to privacy, security, intellectual property, and even liability have yet to be addressed in a big data world.

Eyebrows are also raised at the issue of data security. It is unclear how companies can protect competitively sensitive data, or data that should be kept private. Recent scandals involving data breaches have exposed consumers and damaged firms’ images. And there are significant legal issues. Questions are raised about the intellectual property rights attached to data, and who is responsible when inaccurate data leads to negative consequences.

“That is the next huge hurdle,” says Dr Guy. “It’s just breaking in various places now, and it’s a major issue for all businesses,” he adds.

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