Closing in on the Data Skills Gap

By Matthew Johnston, Area Vice President, ASEAN & Korea, Commvault

The world in which we live, play and work is transforming right before our eyes. In today’s rapidly changing business and technology landscape, companies need to keep up quickly, or else risk being disrupted.

The ability to succeed in this digital era means increasing the speed at which ideation, innovation and collaboration can happen. While technology plays a big part in this equation, it’s not just the machines that make the magic happen, businesses need talented people equipped with a data-first mindset to transform your data into a powerful strategic asset.

According to Singapore’s Economic Development Board, the data analytics sector alone is set to contribute at least $1 billion to the economy each year by 2017. However, while 94 percent of Southeast Asia's business leaders agreed that it is important to have a data-savvy workforce, there is a skills gap that needs to be addressed in order for organisations to fully move ahead with a data-driven culture. Only 39 percent of those polled felt that they have employees with relevant data skills to help them identify and achieve business outcomes.

While some organisations are trying to solve the issue through training and contingent hires, which may partly solve the problem, others are taking on a more direct approach by attracting and managing the talent needed to make this shift.

Businesses need to realise that talent and technology together can drive their data transformation and fast track business success. The key to this is to ensure they have the right talent in their organisation.

1. Groom the next generation of talent

One way businesses can help bring into the market a steady pipeline of talent who are equipped with the required knowledge, and who can leverage the tools for the age of big data is to groom the next generation of data professionals through public-private partnerships.

This is where students in tertiary institutes are trained in the necessary skill sets through hands-on experience to implement or build modern, agile IT infrastructure that can help businesses respond to new and changing business requirements more rapidly. Private sector companies need to take the lead in supporting this upgrading of skill sets and cultivate a new generation of trained IT professionals who can then be matched to opportunities across various industries – not just the IT sector.

2. Mine your existing workforce

Companies searching to fill a skills gap usually start searching externally. However, with a little training, most enterprises are surprised to learn that there are employees who may already have the skills, or who could easily be redeployed, to fill the gap.

Mining for talent within the business can have big payoffs and help bolster talent pools. However, to do this, enterprises need to build in flexibility and inter-department mobility that’s founded in a skills- rather than role-based approach so that people can be effectively deployed to different roles and divisions, as and when the business need arises.

3. ‘Acqui-hire’

One strategy that looks set to become a trend is ‘acqui-hiring’, where businesses acquire another company to tap the talent and skills of its personnel. According to a survey and whitepaper commissioned by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Cognizant, 37 per cent of companies plan to implement such measures by 2018, and 21 per cent of businesses surveyed have already done so.

In India, a few emerging e-commerce tech companies, such as CommonFloor, Flipkart, Urban Ladder and, have done acqui-hires. It is not about hiring regular run-of-the-mill talent just to add to the workforce, rather, if there is commonality in the work done by two companies, then there is huge merit in bringing teams together.

4. Ensure that leaders exemplify a data-first culture

Lastly, people need to stay ahead of the curve, not by being “faster or cheaper” but by developing, honing and capitalizing on the capabilities that are uniquely human and cannot be replicated today by automated software.

The key to organisation-wide data transformation begins with leaders and senior management as company culture is often instilled from the top-down. One approach leaders can take is to paint a desirable and clear vision of what digital transformation for the company looks like, and at the same time, actively seek and implement employee suggestions for new ways of leveraging data to generate positive business outcomes. Many companies might consider hiring increase their millennial employee population in the hope that their data-savviness might rub off on less savvy colleagues. But it doesn't work that way -- senior management needs to lead this change, and cannot simply delegate the responsibility of building a digital culture down the line.

Ultimately, if data in the modern industry is the lifeblood of business, then having a workforce that fully embodies a data-first mentality and approach will drive innovation.

Tackling the talent skills gap will not be solved in a day. Companies will need to invest in data training and re-training for the long haul, while partnerships among industry players, educators and the government will be just as essential.