Data, predicting the talent landscape in Ireland.
If you check the business news in Ireland you’ll see new roles being created in the field of data. Entwined with the tech and FinTech sectors, data is a hot space for talent and brings many challenges for the C-suite, particularly when addressing skill shortages and its place within the organisation structure.
It was 2009 when Google Chief Economist, Hal Varian, predicted that “the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians.” Whilst this has been the case for some time within technology firms and adjacent industries, such as telecommunications, other sectors have taken a little more time to wake up to the potential of data analytics in gaining competitive advantage. Data is no longer a technology issue but a commercial one.
Ireland is strongly placed to attract companies and talent in the field of data with recent job announcements including blue-chip names such as MasterCard and Mercer. The eco-system is strong with blue chip technology companies already established along with a strong environment for start-ups, sponsored by government policy with the IDA at the helm. It also holds several advantages over London with a favourable corporate tax rate and cheaper real estate and staff costs. A key challenge will be keeping a regular supply of talent as new companies take up residence or established firms strengthen their franchise. New industries are also waking up to the advantage of data, whether it be utilities (with increased competition) or the transport sector. A strong supply of talent is key to ensuring the news remains positive.
What are the skills required to work in this area? At a base level, for an entry level data analyst, decent numeracy and business analysis expertise are a given. For roles higher up the value chain, an employers’ minimum requirement will be a Master’s degree in a subject with a heavy statistical bias. Economics or a MBA won’t cut it as hiring firms will be looking for superior expertise in actuarial finance, physics, operational research or mathematics. A data scientist will be expected to come with doctoral level expertise in these areas and a strong programming background to boot.
As with any hot sector, hiring firms are faced with a shortage of demand and inflated salaries. Firms should have a strategy to reach out into the Irish diaspora or encourage other EU nationals to Ireland with structured relocation packages.
A further challenge is where to place data within an organisation as it straddles IT, business units as well as the second line of defence. In sectors such as banking, management are waking up to the prospect of Marketing and Risk departments, with their perceived diametrically opposed agendas, working together to use the same information to analyse a customer’s propensity to default with their propensity to buy. The regulatory agenda, often set around disclosure, has also ensured that Data, along with other perceived back office areas, are suddenly ‘corner office’ functions, not just contributing to strategy but driving it.
Historically, data has been dispersed throughout an organisation with various departments, from Marketing to Finance, gathering information which has been filtered through various IT systems. In many cases, valuable information was left unused or simply horded by functions who remained suspicious of other departments. Data was often seen as a ‘back office’ issue, along with risk management and compliance, and of little concern to anyone outside of Technology or Operations. However, firms across various sectors are waking up to data as an enterprise asset, required either to fend off regulators with better reporting or to sell more effectively to customers.
As such, data is being centralized, in many cases under the COO or a Chief Data Officer, a relatively new executive post in the management structure. The role of a Chief Data Officer is highly nuanced, often due to technological obstacles or the prevailing political landscape of the firm in question. In general, the mandate will include ownership for governance, security, leverage existing data sets, and finding new revenue streams. Like any ‘young’ discipline, senior level talent is thin and sporadic in quality with some data experts elevated by nature of technical expertise or knowledge of a firm’s systems but unable to make the jump required to a more strategic level. In these instances, we are advising hiring firms to focus on a wider pool of professionals with a combination of technical, governance and commercial skills.
A Chief Data Officer will need to lead and inspire diverse teams of quants, programmers and business analysts; navigate internal politics and put data on the agenda of the business. On the one hand they will need to direct technical resources and make them aware of the wider commercial agenda, whilst on the other be able to communicate complex concepts to a non-technical audience. For competitive advantage to be ensured, best practice must be able to navigate through politics and received wisdom.