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Big data talent shortage: How to bridge the gap?

Jun 02, 2015


Published By : Express Computer

A manufacturer of tractors sends alerts to the farmers, who own the tractors manufactured by the company, on when a particular part in the tractor is most likely to fail. For accomplishing this task, the company deploys many different technologies, including Big Data platform, through which information can be extracted from the data related to weather, soil, agriculture patterns, etc.

In banking industry, Big Data is making significant contributions. Many Indian banks have developed robust risk-analysis models for analysing the quality of credit—this has led to record decline in the credit losses that the banks were suffering earlier. There are many such stories of Big Data technology adoption in India. Yet, the truth is that India has barely scratched the surface, when it comes to Big Data.

The Big Talent Crunch
The overall experience of the few enterprises in India that have actually deployed Big Data is positive. A recent Accenture report says that 94% of the Indian organisations, which have made one or more Big Data implementations, are satisfied with the business outcomes of the technology.

The survey also informs that 78% of the enterprises in India see Big Data as something that is necessary for the development of better customer relationships. About 53% of the enterprises surveyed have cited the lack of talent to be one of the key challenges in the deployment of Big Data. Mckinsey estimates that India will need 200,000 data scientists in the coming years.
There is consensus in the Industry on the issue of talent crunch, and the enterprises are trying to address it by re-skilling the existing workforce and by undertaking a different kind of employment model, which is based on selecting professionals with multiple skills.

“The shortage of Big Data professionals is a major issue. We have a lot of young statisticians and computer scientists in the country, but the skills of majority of these young professionals are limited to their own niche areas,” says Bhimasankaram Pochiraju, Clinical Professor and ED, Applied Statistics and Computing, ISB.

The E-Commerce Industry
The e-commerce vertical is an early adopter of Big Data. As large number of consumers have warmed up to online shopping, enterprises such as Flipkart, Snapdeal, etc., are becoming repositories of consumer data. These organisations are also sitting on massive amounts of historical data. They see huge potential in deploying Big Data for achieving meaningful insights from the data that they hold.

Snapdeal has undertaken a Big Data project, which is on verge of completion. The company is also on the lookout for the right kind of talent to take its Big Data initiatives forward. “There are two major challenges that we face. The first is that there aren’t many people who have the experience of working with Big Data technologies. The second is that in order to derive meaningful insights from Big Data, it takes lot of time,” says Ankit Khanna, Senior VP, Product Management, Snapdeal. Khanna is of the view that in the fast moving world of e-commerce, the enterprises need access to necessary information.

“The talent that we are currently having in the organisation is good for problem-solving, but we are looking for more experience. Big Data is a highly innovative area, and it takes time for anyone to grasp the fine details of the technology,” adds Khanna.

As mind boggling amount of data is being created on a regular basis, the companies are also looking for the best possible ways of deriving information out of this data. There is need for professionals who can use Big Data analytics to make effective decisions. They have to be capable of integrating the findings from Big Data with the knowledge derived from other techniques. Bhavish Sood of Gartner says, “A good data scientist will use his knowledge in the context of the business problem.”

Big Data Skills
An ideal Big Data professional would be one who understands the big picture of the business. If he is good in mathematics, statistics and working in the retail industry, but is not well-grounded in the retail business, the constraints of the supply chain operation, then he will not be able to solve the supply chain issues by using Big Data. Data science is the combination of advanced computational science, mathematics, statistics and advance analytics. While there are experts available who are good at one of these disciplines, the industry needs a steady supply of workforce that is equipped with the knowledge of a combination of all these disciplines.

Fractal Analytics provides expertise in the areas of Big Data analytics. The company has about 800 analytics professionals, some of whom are currently deputed at Fortune 500 enterprises. Srikanth Velamakanni, Co-founder & CEO, Fractal Analytics says, “The expertise in Big Data, Analytics and BI is not available in India. Very few people are well-trained in the Big Data stack of technologies.”

Velamakanni says that the Indian companies are not in a position to offer stable and interesting career option to the data scientists. “The enterprises don’t have the ecosystem in place for hiring and grooming talent,” he says.

According to Udo Sglavo, Senior Director, Advanced Analytics, SAS R&D, a person who wants to have a career in Big Data must have three skills—firstly, he must have interest in statistical modelling, maths, engineering; secondly, he should have good experience with at least one programming language such as Java, SAS or any open source language; thirdly he should have the ability to present his findings in a business-like language so that the business leaders in the organisation can easily digest the information. “The third skill is usually the most difficult to develop,” says Sglavo.

“A seasoned analytics professional should have a combination of skills from the fields of statistics, data management including Big Data analytics, and programming. A sound business acumen is also a must,” says Bhimasankaram Pochiraju of ISB.

Khanna of Snapdeal is of the same view. He says, “You have to understand the business from all angles and use Big Data to develop the information that will lead to better outcomes.” The problems that the enterprises face need speedy redressal; if too much time is spent in analysing the data, then the information gleaned may become obsolete by the time it reaches the business heads.
Some enterprises are trying to tackle the resource crunch by having specific training programmes. There are also those, like Snapdeal, which have now started scouting for talent outside the country. “There are lot of Indians working in the Silicon Valley and other technology centres of the world. We are trying to give them an option to relocate back to India,” says Khanna.

The Way Forward
“The evolution of the Big Data delivery models can only happen when we have adequate industry specific Big Data talent. The companies can outsource their Big Data needs, but for that we need to have the Big Data professional services players,” says Rajamani Srinivasan, Vice President & Head of Platform & Technology Business, SAP India.

The data science community can learn from the Indian IT industry the ideas for rapidly developing skilled resources. The idea is to break down the Big Data value chain into “specialised” roles and deliver “industrialised” training processes. “In the area of Big Data, I see the need for three kinds of professionals—the Big Data programmers, the Data Analytics professionals and the domain experts,” says Rajiv Gupta- Head Technology Advantage Practice, BCG India.

It is clear that to address the talent gap in the Big Data space, the HR and the talent management professionals must begin by educating themselves about the technology. They must learn how Big Data will be the strategic driver for bringing competitive advantage to their organisations. The managers and the senior managers must also have the knowledge of the real potential of
Big Data.