The Data Scientist is “the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century”

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Data Scientists may be sexy, but they’re in short supply

At this year’s Europe’s Customer Festival, world-renowned author and academic Tom Davenport gave a presentation on how big data can be used to improve customer relationships. A famous advocate of big data, Davenport claimed that the role of data analytics is so important to businesses today that Data Scientists should be hailed as holding “the sexiest job of the 21st century.”

Obviously that’s quite the claim, and he did go out of his way to point out that he meant sexiest job, not sexiest employees. His reasoning behind all of this? Well, that’s because customer analytics has developed from internally sourced, relatively small, structured data, into a large, unstructured mass of data that has resulted in a seamless blend of traditional analytics and big data. Analysing this wealth of information is key to the success of businesses and, in the words of Davenport, data scientists need to be “right up there on the bridge with Captain Kirk.” If your company doesn’t have a data scientist then it should; even better, it should be you.

And that’s part of the problem, data scientists didn’t start off being at the top of the chain, and now they’re only moving slightly closer to reporting to those up top about what’s going on. The issue is that those up at the top should be the data scientists – or at least have a strong idea of what it is they do and how they work. What use is the information when you don’t know how to put it into action?

Big Data has become a somewhat generic term for data that is used to gain insights and analyse. It’s also one of Tom Davenport’s particular areas of expertise; he is adamant that Big Data is the future when it comes to strengthening customer relationships and improving decisions, products and services.

Davenport even has a rough recipe for how to achieve fast and pervasive analytics. 1) Pick a customer analytics target. 2) Find a large, unstructured volume of customer data. 3) Add ‘a dash of Hadoop and a pinch of NoSQL’. 4) Cook up some applications. It can be that simple, and if your company hasn’t begun to utilise customer data then it’s essential to begin now.

However, this may seem like a huge and intimidating prospect for smaller businesses. You may well hire, or even become, a ‘sexy’ data scientist, but where should one begin?

Davenport recommends that you first identify what your specific need is – it could be customer segmentation, increasing satisfaction or reducing customer attrition. Once this has been identified, a way forward will be far clearer.

The issue of privacy invasion was also raised. Davenport acknowledged that recent events in the US concerning Edward Snowden and the NSA have caused a huge backlash when it comes to data privacy. His final words of advance was that data scientists need to be conservative where possible with their use of data, and that they’re always using it in a way that is ultimately worthwhile for their customers.

[Image: UWW ResNET – Flickr]

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