Many enterprises are struggling with the complexity of today’s big data and data science ecosystem, though they recognize the opportunity of emerging practices. As a result, the shortage of trained data and analytics specialists remains one of the biggest challenges for organizations across the board. Mikael Bisgaard-Bohr, VP Business Development International, Teradata, participates in this Q&A to outline his perspective about working in the new world of data and analytics as well as what organisations need to do to target and recruit the right talent.
How did you land in your current job role?
I have been fortunate to work in what I call the ‘data industry’ for 20 odd years, and this is probably the most exciting time ever! It is more than 20 years since I finished my business degree and I remember on several occasions discussing work with fellow alumni in the years since.
While everyone else went to work for management consultants or investment banks, I was the only one who went into technology – and not a start-up, but what was perceived then as a stodgy ‘old’ technology company. Suffice it to say that I received significant encouragement to go and do something worthwhile and rewarding rather than ‘waste my time and talent on something as esoteric as data’. However, the tables are turning: what was once seen as boring is becoming relevant. Over the last 5-10 years several of my former class mates have called me and started asking questions about this whole “data thing” and a few of them are now working in the data industry themselves.
What does your job involve on a day-to-day basis?
I am responsible for Teradata’s long-term direction and strategy for the region with a specific focus on identifying new markets and industries for Teradata to enter. I have exposure to leading companies globally, which gives me a unique understanding and perspective on how global leaders are leveraging data and analytics to better compete in their markets. I interact with the largest and most sophisticated users of technology to see how it is changing the way companies are run, products are consumed and the interactions between organisations and consumers.
What are the origins of big data – how did it come about?
According to most sources that I have seen it was Clive Humby, one of the brains behinds Tesco’s successful loyalty scheme who coined the phrase ‘data is the new oil’ 10-15 years ago. It is an interesting analogy which shows that he, as one of the early pioneers of data-driven marketing, fully understood the value of data to the enterprise. The idea that data can be seen as the new raw material for the digital enterprise of tomorrow has now taken hold, as we are seeing the increased instrumentation of everything and everyone…
What is the role of data and analytics in today’s digital era?
Today we are rapidly getting used to the fact that almost every object is being instrumented, and so becomes a platform for data generation which in turn can be used to drive new and innovative services, apps or even completely new business models. But what is interesting is that in all these discussions we still tend to focus most of our attention on the volume of data. Just focusing on the fact that we can now get data on anything or anyone – and that the data volumes are increasing – misses the real revolutionary aspect of what is going on.
We are seeing organisations actively hiring and recruiting for a new role – that of Chief Data Officer – what will this role bring to the enterprise of the future?
I believe that in a lot of organisations there is an amount of “fashionable awareness” of certain roles and this is certainly true when it comes to the CDO. This means that for many organisations the CDO role will have little influence and consequence.
However in organisations that put data at their core, the CDO role becomes a critical leadership role focusing on preparing the organisation to leverage data as a competitive advantage by:
- Building adequate and relevant data management capabilities across the organisation by focusing on acquiring and training talent for analytics, building the necessary organisation that makes these capabilities relevant for the business and organisational frameworks to ensure that best practices are captured and distributed
- Creating an infrastructure within the organisation to ensure that data can be leveraged for better results
- Fostering a data driven culture across the organisation to ensure that data and analytics are embedded into a wide variety of business processes and that testing new business ideas with data becomes the new norm (as opposed to relying on ‘gut based’ decision making)
- Aggressively importing ideas from outside as well as sharing best practices to foster innovation
- Instilling a culture of courage to act on the results
The fact that there is a skills shortage in technology globally and more recently in data and analytics is widely written about. What can employers do to bridge this skills gap?
Historically many organisations have relied on external trainers to provide skills upgrade and training programmes for their workforce. It is now abundantly clear that there is a talent shortage in data and analytics, and as that demand continues to grow I am convinced that more external providers will jump in to fill the void.
But I don’t believe that this will be enough – an outside provider can train the workforce on basic analytical capabilities, and that has some value. However I strongly believe that for the workforce to become truly analytically enabled, organisations need to complement this with internal training – leveraging their own data and focusing more on the practical uses of that data.
What would your advice be to students and young graduates seeking roles the data and analytics space in today’s enterprise?
This is a very interesting question indeed. There is a wide spread perception that analytic skills are quantitative and therefore young graduates should focus on the quantitative aspects of analytics – statistics and quantitative methods. I agree that these are very important fundamental skills; without them it is very hard to become a strong analytic-driven associate. But some of the best data scientists and analytical people that I have worked with have had a very, very strong creative side as well, and I strongly feel that you cannot become successful with data and analytics without strong creative skills, as well as the conviction and courage to follow them.
Some of the most successful analytics cases I have encountered were not only successful because they drove business value, but uncovered new and previously unknown insights using methods that were not intuitive for that particular problem. What made these cases outstanding was the creative use of analytics coupled with how they were presented, enabling a much more effective and impactful communication of the results. This is why I believe that the Teradata’s ‘Art of Analytics’ is such a great programme because it highlights the importance of the other side of the equation.
So my advice would be to pursue a combination of both quantitative and creative skills so that the students of today can generate ground-breaking results whilst effectively communicating them to stakeholders.