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Big Data, Small Talent Stocks – The Big Data Talent Shortage and How to Overcome It


Over the past few years, we’ve seen an intensified focus on Business Intelligence (BI) within many businesses. During the recession, being data-driven was not as much of a choice for many companies as it was a necessity. Having the necessary information to back up each and every business choice could often be the difference between keeping the company’s head above water, or being in serious trouble.

Now that we’re in a period of growth again, we’re seeing more organisations looking to take this data driven approach. Having a strong Business Intelligence unit is crucial to implementing this effectively, and succeeding in today’s information obsessed society. In the age of ‘Big Data’, the swathes of information that are now relevant to business success are incredibly large. Although that new data creates new opportunities for businesses to engage with their customers, it also introduces new complexities and challenges. One of those challenges is selecting the right tools for your business whilst trying to find the talent to resource these new needs.

Supply & Demand

Big Data alone is potentially revolutionary, but without the people to make sense of it nobody will be able to make use of it, and that potential will remain unrealised. Since the rise of Big Data has increased the need for people to service it, the scarcity of those with the ability to engage with it has become more apparent. This has resulted in a massive level of interest for those who can fill the new "Data Scientist” role. Salaries have skyrocketed and publications have gone as far as calling Data Scientist "the sexiest job of the 21st century.”

However, the role remains limited to those with an extremely specialist skillset. Someone who is a great researcher and has a background in statistics, who is also a good problem solver and is familiar with the technical side of data science. Finding someone with just one or two of these traits might be difficult, finding someone with all four is very hard unless you have an extremely attractive business. Whilst perfect candidates do exist, they are very rare and inevitably know their value, which therefore makes them very selective about opportunities. In reality, most organisations are unlikely to be able to attract these candidates, and need to consider looking further afield.

Data Science is such a new discipline that specialist courses for it are only just starting to be rolled out, but help is on the way. Massey University is now offering a degree in Data Science, but they are the only University in Australasia to currently offer this. Although this is a huge step forward, there is no immediate solution to the current shortage. However, that doesn’t mean that there will suddenly be less demand for Data Scientists or BI professionals. Businesses are still pushing forward with Big Data, especially in customer-driven industries like retail and banking, and the public sector. This means that a strategic, long-term approach needs to be taken when it comes to hiring. So with this in mind, what can you do about the current situation?

Contingency Plans

At the moment, most of the experienced BI specialists are based overseas as they are exposed to big multi nationals and therefore exposed to more advanced technologies and tools. There is always the possibility of hiring from overseas, from other markets with more experienced BI candidates. However, this can be expensive and troublesome, and there is also no guarantee that overseas candidates will fit into your company culture. If you do pursue this route, for instance by engaging a specialist recruitment agency, it does get you the person with the best skills and experience as soon as possible. You can also engage contractors or other contingent labour to fill your immediate need, however this opens up questions about long term planning and, again, comes at a cost.

Another option is to take someone from a different industry who is already applying the necessary skills in a different context. This could be an individual with a non-technical background, such the financial or banking sectors, who would be able to run the same analytical, trend-aware, eye over Big Data. With the dangling carrot of such a significant paycheque, moving into this kind of role could be a tempting change of pace for many professionals in analysis based roles in other industries.

You can also take these people on and then surround them with a team of skilled technicians. Data Science, especially when it comes to Big Data in these large, complex organisations, is a function that is driven by business and made possible by technology. This means that a balance is required in terms of the expertise required of each team. If you already have a good team of Developers, getting someone with strong commercial experience and business acumen to join that technical team can be beneficial for both parties, and leave you with a well-balanced Business Intelligence unit.

Advice for Candidates

For candidates, whether they’re on the business or intelligence side of Business Intelligence, there is some general advice that can help you become a more attractive candidate for a role dealing with Big Data. Firstly, try to move into a large and complex organisation. Regardless of if it’s public or private sector, having experience within a certain size of organisation (and consequently having experience with a certain volume of data) will help you eventually move into that Big Data BI role.

Whether you’re on the mathematics, computing or business side of BI, make sure that you open yourself up to as many opportunities as possible and get a variety of experience. As with our advice to employers, being versatile enough to have an understanding of the technical side if you’re mostly business focused, or the business drivers if you’re mostly technical, can be invaluable. Experience across a variety of tools will also take you to the forefront.


Business Intelligence has been around for a few years now but skills like Data Analytics and Big Data are trending and aren’t going to be going away. They won’t become less important. Although there is currently a shortage of skilled candidates for those highly sought after roles, this puts the onus on companies to think ahead, start identifying talent needs ahead of the curve and scale right for their business. Make the right decisions in terms of the tools, and the right decisions in terms of your people, and do it ahead of time. If you need specialist help when recruiting for your Business Intelligence unit, feel free to get in touch with me or one of the other experts at OCG.

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