Has the growth of the data discipline been down more to lucky timing than judgement? Not many business people have a reason to thank the economic downturn since 2008. But for the data world, it has been a blessing in disguise. The reason? Available talent which would otherwise have been absorbed into competing sectors. If financial services had not been in decline, data might not have been in the ascendancy.
Nobody could doubt that the last five years have been extraordinarily good to this industry. Business leaders have accepted the idea that data can help them to make better decisions, based on a heightened understanding of their company, customers and competitors. Both through enhanced reporting and predictive analytics, the way forward - based on the road already travelled - has become clearer to CEOs.
One of the main reasons for their conversion to the cause has been a lack of choice of other options. Flat markets and limited finance make growth difficult to achieve, unless you discover a previously overlooked asset which is cheap to mine and relatively inexpensive to convert and exploit.
Continuous improvement in the underlying technology to manage and analyse this data has helped, of course. That trend has been running for the last four decades, however. Digital channels have also exploded, yielding previously unseen insights into consumer and business behaviour - the concept of “big data” has undoubtedly driven acceptance by senior executives.
Yet none of this would have been possible without the right human resource in the form of data analysts. Their skills take the raw material of data from both established and emerging sources and mine it for insights. Spotting commercially-significant patterns or building models that predict what will happen next is where the value gets extracted.
While it remains a challenge to find enough of these skilled practitioners, the flat market has helped significantly. At the recent IDM B2B conference I spoke to several major brands about their data and insight capabilities. In both cases, they were clear that the ability of their business to introduce this new function had been based on recruiting staff who would otherwise have gone to work in banks.
The fact that they have jobs to offer makes recruiting much easier than would otherwise have been the case. For many of those analysts, the work is relatively straightforward, compared to finance, which still represents the cutting edge for much of what analytics is focused on. Other sectors, particularly more generic ones where innovation is less fast-paced, require more basic skills. As one of the companies noted, “we take people from financial services and send them back ten years.”
So a new generation of businesses has been data-enabled on the back of an absence of jobs for analysts elsewhere. The big question is what happens next? Assuming some degree of growth returns to the economy over the next five years, finance will once again come calling.
Will your data management team be able to resist its siren call?