Sean Owen, Director of Data Science, Cloudera talks about how data science can have a significant impact on innovation in the UK, as well as the economy

Listed by the Harvard Business Review as the “Sexiest job of the 21st Century” and by Glassdoor as the “Best Job of the Year” 2016, it’s fair to say that the data scientist role is highly coveted. With organisations recognising the inherent value that data scientists can deliver, particularly when it comes to businesses processes, efficiencies and productivity, demand is surging. Data scientists have a combination of analytical, statistical capabilities but also possess a sense of creativity to be able to visualise their insights in a way that helps business leaders make strategic decisions. For example, retailers hiring data science teams could be tasked with developing a 360-degree customer view offering a better understanding of purchase patterns and shopping behaviours across channels. The end goal is to design the ideal customer experience to consolidate their loyalty. Or take the case of insurers using telematics-based usage insurance solutions, which allows them to personalise coverage, as well as charge customers based on their driving habits. The resulting data can be analysed and insights can inform rate adjustments and deductibles based on each individual’s driving patterns, mitigating risk while increasing both profit and market share. From personalisation of purchases to safer driving habits, it’s evident that data is the new oil of the digital economy. However, these innovations are only possible if organisations have the people with the skillset to be able to find the needle within the proverbial big data haystack.

Innovation or stagnation

These talents will become a hotter commodity following the recent Spring Budget where the Chancellor outlined plans to make £270 million available to ‘keep the UK at the forefront of disruptive technologies’, including artificial intelligence and robotics. The investment in innovation is welcomed and presents a golden opportunity for the UK to become a data-driven digital economy. From smart cities to autonomous vehicles, these will only become a reality if they are underpinned by the people with the technical nous. True innovation and real progress can only be truly realised if it has the workforce to support it.

Take smart cities for example; big data is the foundation needed to develop smart cities, a market valued at more than £900 billion by 2020. It is one thing to enable the infrastructure of a smart city, but sourcing the trained professionals, in both the public and private sector, to operate the infrastructure, is a challenge given the dearth of talent. The industry has discovered that the number of people with the required skills is not increasing in line with the growing demand for data experts.  The biggest challenge facing big data initiatives is not software or hardware, it’s the skills gap.

Mind the gap

The adoption of big data analytics and IoT (Internet of Things) are expected to create 182,000 new jobs by 2020 according to the Centre of Economics and Business Research. In order to fill these expected vacancies, employers are tasked to build a highly skilled workforce to implement and support new digital strategies and subsequently, expect certifications in the latest technologies. Investment needs to be geared towards the right certifications required to push forward innovations in big data and open source projects. This needs to be coupled with hands-on, performance-based certifications focusing on data scientists, administrators, developers and analysts that replicate real-world scenarios in a big data environment.

The economy is changing at an unprecedented pace and there are some truly exciting innovations just around the corner. In times of uncertainty, we need to create a resilient workforce, equipped with the right skills and experience linked to the impact of digital technology, to propel the UK into the fourth industrial revolution.


Sean Owen

Director of Data Science




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