Are you ready for a date with data?

Evidence suggests businesses gain a competitive edge through the smart use of information, with more than a quarter (26 per cent) of digital leaders telling the BCS that big data is one of their key technology priorities.

Such organisations are striving to appoint specialists who can turn information into insight. The benefits can be huge. Organisations who take a tighter grip over structured and unstructured data can develop a deeper understanding of key business trends, such as operations, profits and customer satisfaction levels.

The focus on big data affects IT labour markets and can have an impact on traditional IT careers. A new IT skills gap is looming, where businesses need increasing numbers of information-savvy individuals.

Demand for big data specialists is set to rise 160 per cent between 2013 and 2020, according to SAS and the Tech Partnership. Estimates suggest there will be around 56,000 job opportunities per annum by the end of the decade.

Traditional business intelligence reporting expertise is still crucial, and so is a new range of skills connected to modelling, evaluation and deployment. Many firms seek individuals with strengths in open source tools, such as Apache Cassandra, Hadoop and Spark.

In fact, the high demand affects all levels of the labour market, including the very top. Gartner says the amount of chief data officers (CDOs) being appointed by major organisations rose from 400 in 2014 to 1,000 in 2015. The analyst predicts 90 per cent of large companies will have a CDO by 2019.

As Gartner recognises, the CDO position encompasses a broad remit, including data governance, decision-making and the creation of business value. In many cases, what the business needs is a new class of business-savvy IT professionals.

Smart, up-and-coming IT professionals can help fill the gap. By focusing on key areas of skills development, such as business analysis and project management, IT leaders can fine tune their skills and feel confident about their date with data.

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