Build a Data Driven Smarter Workforce

Every day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created by sources that range from electronic sensors in factories to medical devices in hospitals and videos uploaded to social networks. And as we create this massive universe of data we are also creating opportunities for economic growth, marketplace innovation and an exciting new workforce.

According to Gartner Inc., 4.4 million jobs will be generated worldwide over the next three years, nearly two million of which will be based in the U.S. alone.

The reason: whether you’re a medical center hoping to discover life-saving insights from medical data, or a manufacturer seeking to predict costly factory breakdowns before they happen, organizations need skilled employees who can harness this data, now.

Indeed, we live and work within the next era of computing, in which cognitive systems can draw insightful connections within data, learn from it, and uncover evidence backed answers that assist their users.

Now we need a strong commitment to building a workforce of trained analytics professionals and data scientists who can take command of these technologies and leverage them to discover new ways of doing business.

The reason: whether you’re a medical center hoping to discover life-saving insights from medical data, or a manufacturer seeking to predict costly factory breakdowns before they happen, organizations need skilled employees who can harness this data, now.

Data-crunching experts can transform our public sector to better serve citizens. The city of Dubuque, Iowa, combines smart meters and powerful analytics to give its citizens the insights they need to adjust their energy and water consumption. The results are an impressive 11 percent reduction in electricity usage and a 7 percent reduction in water usage. City leaders now have ample evidence that such programs need to be influenced by citizens, which will in turn attract new residents to put down roots in the city, boosting economic vitality and development.

Given the opportunity that Big Data represents, leaders from the public, private and academic sectors convened this week in Washington D.C., at a Big Data forum sponsored by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. A core point of discussion: how we can inspire multi-stakeholder partnerships to develop a data-driven workforce, address societal challenges and drive economic growth and innovation.

Across government agencies and key U.S. industries, the career opportunities that Big Data is enabling are welcome news for college students and professionals alike, who seek fulfilling, in-demand jobs — or ways to up their game as top contributors for their employers.

However, not just anyone can fill the fast emerging Big Data and analytics workforce. Professionals in this field must possess a fusion of business and technical skills, statistical prowess, and a host of professional attributes and personal values to position them for success.

In the past few years, universities across the world have begun launching a flurry of new degree programs, concentrations and coursework, to prepare tomorrow’s leaders for challenges that require insights locked in data sources ranging from electronic sensors to social media.

Here in the nation’s capital, leading higher education institutions are introducing innovative curriculum for business students, including a one-week Big Data summer intensive program at Georgetown for MBA students, and a series of career track classes offered at George Washington University that give students industry-specific knowledge in fields ranging from healthcare to sports.

These schools are part of the more than 1,000 universities partnering with IBM to offer data-driven education. This ecosystem of opportunity also includes the IBM Client Center for Advanced Analytics in Columbus, Ohio, which serves as an innovation hub to advance analytics skills, drawing on the expertise of local businesses and academic partners, such as The Ohio State University.

Beyond the business and technical skills needed to uncover answers from Big Data, there a host of “soft skills” students need: subtle aptitudes, personal traits and values that have been challenging for analytics job seekers and academics alike to identify and cultivate. That’s why IBM has partnered with its clients and collaborating universities on the IBM Analytics Talent Assessment, which is an online tool that college students can use to gauge their readiness for public and private sector data innovation jobs. In turn, the students gain guidance on ways to further develop and position themselves as skilled candidates.

If we continue to form these partnerships and if we follow through on cultivating the right forms of education, we will bring to life the notion of a Smarter Workforce, where decision makers can act upon Big Data insights, and thereby transform business and address societal challenges with solutions. A terrific example is the work Sutter Health, IBM and Geisinger Health System are doing through a grant from the National Institutes of Health to research new data analytics applications that could help doctors detect heart failure years sooner than is now possible.

The payoff of cultivating these skills is huge. Companies that weave Big Data skills throughout their organization outperform competitors by a factor of three to one, according to a joint study from the MIT Sloan Management Review and IBM. Organizations that seize upon data-crunching solutions, such as cognitive systems, can piece together answers from data that show businesses how to grow customer bases, and physicians how to care for patients. And, very importantly, insights plucked from Big Data on emerging trends and changing tastes can spur the creation of innovative new businesses and services that can keep the U.S. competitive and thriving.

Christopher A. Padilla is Vice President of Governmental Programs for IBM and leads the company’s global government affairs function and manages a team of professionals in more than 30 countries. Prior to joining IBM, Mr. Padilla served as Under Secretary for International Trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce. He holds both a B.A. and an M.A. in international studies from Johns Hopkins University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.