Business schools and recruiters from some of the world’s largest companies have told BusinessBecause that data analytics skills are of critical importance for MBA students to secure careers in the new digital economy.
Company recruiters in a wide array of industries are increasingly demanding these data analytics skills from their new hires, from global insurance firms to large listed advertising groups.
At the same time, a host of highly-ranked business schools have incorporated “big data” techniques into their MBA curriculums, have re-designed their curriculums to cater for the increased reliance on digital skills, or plan to launch new courses dedicated to data analytics.
Big data has thrived as companies in sectors including financial services, technology, media and retail reap the benefits of using consumer data to assess market trends and develop strategies to expand the sales of their services and products.
Mark Wilkinson, managing director of data analytics firm SAS UK and Ireland, said that big data is the “new oil” that will power the economy, and added that data analytics allow valuable insights that inform business decision making.
His comments come at the same time as figures showing that recruiters are not satisfied with the level of data skills graduates have obtained. Of an estimated 2,200 big data positions advertised by respondents to a 2013 survey, 77% were said to have been difficult to fill. Research by SAS UK found that three quarters of employers report big data positions were either difficult or “very” difficult to fill.
Frances Illingworth, global recruitment director at WPP, the world’s largest advertising group, told BusinessBecause that data analytics skills were “without question” important for MBA hires. “How one looks at data and media data is critical to our business now,” she said.
WPP, which is NASDAQ-listed and employs about 180,000 people, has 350 companies across its portfolio of businesses, according to Frances, earning £11 billion in revenue in 2013.
“I don’t think they need to be technically qualified but they need to understand the impact of digital on the way clients operate [and] the way they sell products,” Frances said.
WPP and its rivals have been investing in technology to take advantage of new ways of delivering adverts through online channels. Digital advertising is the fastest-growing part of the advertising industry.
“Data is becoming an important part of how we look at the customer journey,” Frances added.
“We look at direct marketing and digital businesses… Then we look at it in media businesses in terms of media consumption. How we measure that data is increasingly important.”
Louis Dorval from Meltwater Group, the Norway-founded software services company, said that the “explosion of data” provides executives with a new and invaluable source of business insight.
The data specialist, which has 900 employees in 57 global offices but is headquartered in San Francisco, provides solutions services including social media marketing and strategy, and public relations and reputation management.
Louis said that big data has become “very important”. “We focus on data outside of the firewall because it offers unique strategic insights to executives – given that it is real-time, unfiltered and ‘benchmark-able’,” he said.
Louis said that career opportunities are in a new division that will be tasked with developing new products and capabilities. He added that future MBA openings may also emerge in its enterprise sales division, as well as the marketing team and main product team.
“We're not looking for ‘employees’ as much as we're looking for company builders,” he said.
In the last two years the Indian School of Business has seen companies and consulting firms seeking to hire for explicit roles in business analytics, said Deepa Mani, assistant professor of the information systems group at ISB.
“As companies seek help with integrating new technologies in their business strategies, we find significant demand for these skills,” said Deepa.
One area of data usage growth in Asia Pacific is the insurance industry, but this trend is also evident across much of Europe and in the US.
Insurance firms are beginning to ask more detailed questions to assess life expectancy, and are using analytics techniques to make longevity assessments.
Liberty Mutual, a large insurance group based in Singapore, has been hiring MBA students in Australia for its country leadership programs across Asia. Liberty, which has more than 50,000 employees that helped to generate $38.5 billion in revenue in 2013, offers auto, home and life insurance services.
John Gurskey, director of the Melbourne Business School Career Management Centre, said that MBA students learn to analyse data on the program to develop business solutions for clients.
“All MBA students really need to understand the implications of ‘big data’,” he added.
Other financial services groups are demanding digital skills for their investment banking divisions.
Astbury Marsden, a London recruitment firm, said that hiring in the financial capital of Europe surged 46% in October compared with the same month in 2013. The creation of 3,400 jobs was driven by banks’ renewed investment in the “digital agenda”, the firm said.
Adam Jackson, director at Astbury Marsden, said that from investment banking through to the insurance sector, “investment in IT is back in vogue”.
“There has been a sea [of] change in how firms view investment in IT over the last year in the City,” he said. “Investment in IT is no longer being seen as a cost but as a key to unlocking better long term profitability.”
However, demand among UK financial services groups for big data managers is not being met, according to Tech Partnership, the employers’ network.
Karen Price, director, said: “With the number of available jobs in big data increasing every year, it’s vital that we attract new talent into the industry to ensure that businesses have the skilled staff they need.”
To cater for digital demand, business schools like Melbourne – which is rolling out an MBA in analytics next year – are adapting their teachings.
HEC Paris revamped its MBA course to cater for big data last year; Yale's School of Management has a Centre for Customer Insights; Wharton has a customer analytics initiative; and the Kelley School of Business also launched an MBA in business analytics last year.
Management consulting firms, which have been some of the biggest recruiters of MBA graduates in 2014, are also evolving their methods. Growth is coming from disruptive technologies including data analytics and the cloud.
Digital and technology services increased their share of consulting revenues by 6% last year, accounting for a quarter of income, according to the Management Consultancies Association.