Building Skills for the Big Data Revolution

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Google ‘Big Data’ and the mighty search engine generates over 300 million results in under a second, that’s a lot of information about a lot of information. Very near the top of the list is a definition that talks about ‘extremely large data sets’… so it’s not rocket science.

But despite that simple definition, the big data revolution is transforming the way organisations do business and highlighting the specialist skills professionals need to help them realise the full potential of its benefits.

Why is ‘Big Data’ so big now?

According to some Big Data isn’t a new thing, what’s new are the more recent changes in technology that create new large data sets – think the internet, smartphones and social media – and allow for cost effective real time processing of those data sets - think cloud-based CRM and ERP systems.

The data was always there, but these days we've got the tools and technology to capture and analyse it.

How is ‘Big Data’ changing business?

Data analytics and modelling transform data into information, and that's when it becomes useful.

Turning large structured and unstructured data sets into meaningful information can offer deeper insights into key business drivers, whether it's consumer behaviour, productivity or sales.

If done well, businesses can use those insights to understand the past, model the future and make rapid real-time decisions driven by data, not intuition.

But a bit like trying to decide what to do with 300 million search engine results, Big Data brings issues as well as solutions, and it’s those issues that underscore the skills needed to survive the Big Data revolution.

Volume: Even SMEs are dealing with huge amounts of data compared with traditional data sources

Variety: Many sources of structured and unstructured data, created by both people and machines, adds to the complexity

Velocity: Data creation, processing and analysis is happening at a much faster pace  

Veracity: Data quality varies depending on the source, influencing how a business treats it

Turning huge data sets into meaningful information and then interpreting it takes skills that, for now at least, are distinctly human. Making sure the team has those skills is the next challenge for business.

What’s the ‘Big Data’ skill set

According to the latest CEO survey from PWC[1], data and analytics top the list of technologies CEOs believe are likely to generate the greatest returns for their business.

So having the skills in the team to effectively exploit the benefits of data and analytics will drive recruitment in those organisations.

Financial analysis, budgeting, forecasting and cost management will still be a key part of the skills organisations look for, but candidates will also need to demonstrate potential across a whole new range of skills.

Hard Skills

Skills that used to sit squarely in the IT department have well and truly migrated into the mainstream including:

  • ERP and CRM system capabilities
  • Data mining and extraction
  • The ability to identify trends from data
  • Financial modelling and analysis


Soft Skills

Finance professionals are not notorious for their soft skills, but it hasn’t always been a deal breaker. The era of data analytics brings pressure to understand and partner with the business and offer solutions not just data, so commercial acumen and soft skills just became core competencies. Top skills include:

  • Relationship building
  • Strategic thinking
  • Industry and organisational knowledge
  • Process improvement
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication skills


All of this is set against a backdrop of what PWC describe as macroeconomic megatrends[2] including demographic change, economic power shifts, resource scarcity and climate change, and urbanisation.

To stay competitive in a constantly shifting business environment, organisations must rise to the challenge of big data. That means recruiting talent with the ‘Big Data’ skill set.

What’s the state of play?

These days finance teams are being asked to provide businesses with strategic data-driven analysis and recommendations, according to a recent global survey[3] of finance executives. And it’s highlighting the limited analytical skills of existing teams, and a shortage of skilled candidates for open positions.

The problem is often compound by organisational resistance to change and poor information systems.

Businesses that succeed in overcoming these issues do so with top-down leadership, communicating the value of data analytics, and developing in-house training programs that build the necessary skills in existing teams.

Transformational change takes time and organisations, and candidates, might benefit from a staged approach.  The right hiring policies will support candidates to build skills in data analytics. Technical specialists could also help develop team capabilities.

Ultimately leadership need to create a culture that embraces change and recognises the opportunity change can bring.

West Recruitment has been offering tailored recruitment solutions to employers and candidates in Sydney for over ten years.

For a confidential chat about how we can help you fill your next vacancy, or make your next move call one of the Parramatta team on 02 9689 8900 or one of the Sydney team on 02 8036 7600. Or to register with us click here.




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