Big Data, Big Opportunity: What Companies Need From Leaders

January 26, 2022
Big Data FTMBA Blog Photo

Big data continues to transform how businesses operate. Learn some of the key skills employers are looking for in analytically savvy leaders.

It is safe to say that the buzz surrounding big data and analytics has made a significant impact on organizations and their workforces.

One example is the recent trend in the tech industry. According to Deloitte, jobs for analysis skills—including machine learning, data science, data engineering and visualization—outpaced positions for traditional skills like engineering, customer support, marketing and PR, and administration. It occurred in 2020 for the second time in four years.

“Tech companies continue to ramp up data scientist and data analyst talent,” the report added. “However, with businesses across industries scrambling to acquire AI talent and to increase their own data-driven decision making, demand for data analytics professionals will likely outstrip the available talent for some time.”

Perhaps most remarkable is how that statement transcends job function. The skill gap applies not only to specialists but the leaders responsible for guiding organizations and making decisions that are (hopefully) rooted in data-driven insights.

How the Data Skill Gap Intersects with Leadership

Companies lack the talent they need for the future. In a survey of executives and managers from McKinsey, 87 percent said they either have existing skill gaps (43 percent) or will face skill gaps within a few years (44 percent).

When asked about the potential skill gaps that need to be addressed, 43 percent of respondents pointed to data analytics. It was the overwhelming favorite. In fact, no other skill gap cleared the 30-percent mark, with leadership-related areas occupying the subsequent four spots.

  1. Data analytics: 43 percent
  2. IT management: 26 percent
  3. Executive management: 25 percent
  4. HR management: 23 percent
  5. Sales and marketing operations: 22 percent

As you can imagine, data analytics and leadership comprising the top five skill gaps do not bode well for what happens when the two are combined. Analytically minded leaders simply are not the norm.

According to a separate survey from Deloitte, 67 percent of executives (senior managers or higher) said they were not comfortable accessing or using data from their tools and resources. Even at companies with strong data-driven cultures, the results were still concerning. There, 37 percent of respondents still reported discomfort with data.

It is a regrettable trend for an area where opportunity looms so clearly. Organizations can make an incredible impact if their leaders become comfortable with and prioritize data.

5 Data Skills Companies Need From Leaders

Here are some of the most important data skills companies need from business leaders.

1. Operationalizing Data

For many companies, the first step that needs to be taken is transitioning from testing data to putting it to use.

“Mature organizations must address gaps in the use of analytics by operationalizing data,” Frank Vella, CEO of data analytics company Information Builders, said in Forbes. “An increasingly important piece of this process involves analytics automation.”

The mention of automation is particularly interesting because it is an area that holds so much promise for organizations. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already part of everyday experiences. When Gmail finishes a sentence of your email or Netflix makes a streaming recommendation, all of that is possible because large sets of structured and unstructured data are examined for patterns. Those patterns are analyzed to make predictions.

Thankfully, more businesses are planning on operationalizing and automating data. Gartner reported that by the end of 2024, 75 percent of enterprises will switch from piloting to operationalizing artificial intelligence, driving a 5x increase in streaming data and analytics infrastructures.

The right leaders need to be in place to guide transitions and make the most of relevant systems.

2. Visualizing Data

Another skill effective leaders have is the ability to communicate data to others. Inevitably, that means presenting data visually.

Nothing can beat a clear, impactful chart or graph. And chances are that you can recall a beautifully illustrated infographic that showcased powerful stats and figures on a particular topic.

It is paramount that leaders are comfortable with data visualization tools and best practices surrounding the visual presentation of information. This skill enables large volumes of information to be presented impactfully to people at all levels of the organization.

When that happens, everything opens up. Workers who rarely get data-driven insights receive what they need to make a greater impact in their day-to-day jobs. Leaders who may not be aware of something can quickly and easily spot a difference-making opportunity.

3. Integrating Data-Driven Decision Making

As established earlier, a majority of executives are not comfortable using and interacting with data. The issue is amplified when it comes to a foundational best practice of data-driven decision making.

“What was once a data shortage is now such a large data surplus, that decision makers struggle to separate the meaningful information from extraneous noise in their environment,” Wayne Stottler, a product development manager at consulting firm Kepner-Tregoe, said. “When they feel overwhelmed by the data presented to them, leaders are now ignoring the data and resorting to instinct as the basis for critical decisions. This approach will not be sustainable very long.”

Indeed, leaders cannot overlook data and the value it offers simply because they are overwhelmed and uncomfortable by it. Data needs to be a part of each and every conversation. Leaders who understand how best to use data will be in a much better position to succeed in making crucial decisions.

4. Getting Data Out of Silos

A data silo refers to isolated, raw data that a department can access but not other parts of the organization.

Data silos lead to all sorts of problems. How can decision makers do their jobs without a complete view? What happens to collaboration when departments do not have access to information critical to success? Data silos undermine the company, its employees and its customers. Silos even threaten and jeopardize technological systems because isolated data tends to waste storage space and create inefficiencies.

But imagine leaders who are able to remove data from silos and put them into the hands of fellow decision makers, frontline workers and external partners. Doing so requires efforts such as reevaluating organizational processes, technical infrastructure and measures already mentioned in this article. Those recommendations came from a McKinsey survey that examined executives who successfully accomplished the ultimate goal in this entire conversation surrounding data—achieving strong data cultures.

5. Creating a Data-Driven Organization

Companies are struggling to make progress in becoming truly data-driven.

That was a clear finding in NewVantage Partners’ 2021 small survey of C-suite executives at Fortune 1000 and industry-leading firms. There were concerning results—like how only 29.2 percent reported transformational business outcomes as a result of data and AI investments—but the primary highlight was how only 24 percent said that they thought their business was data-driven in the past year. It marked a decline from 37.8 percent the previous year.

“What is at the root of this slow progress?” asked Randy Bean, founder and CEO of NewVantage Partners, in Harvard Business Review. “For the fifth consecutive year, executives report that cultural challenges—not technological ones—represent the biggest impediment around data initiatives.” In 2021, 92.2 percent of companies (up from 80.9 percent in 2020) struggled with a wide range of cultural issues.

  • Organizational alignment
  • Business processes
  • Change management
  • Communication
  • People skill sets
  • Resistance or lack of understanding to enable change

It seems that data skills are not enough for leaders. They must have strong data and leadership skills to make a profound impact in organizations. As a result of these skills gaps, there is a powerful opportunity to fill that void. With an MBA in Business Analytics, you can develop both sets of skills you will need to become an analytical leader who can thrive in any industry.

In as few as 17 months, you will complete a world-class education through Baylor University. You will graduate with the ability to move into high-level leadership positions to help companies embrace strong data initiatives. Alternatively, you will have the education to pursue a lucrative specialty role like data scientist, which was highlighted as one of the top jobs in 2021 for full-time MBA grads—with a median salary of more than $96,000.

Baylor’s highly ranked MBA programs at the Hankamer School of Business have proven their worth. Within 90 days of graduation, 91 percent of MBA candidates land a career-building job.

What's Next

Is an MBA in your future? To learn more about the full-time Master of Business Administration program offered at Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, explore our detailed program page. Still have questions about the program? Our admissions advisers can help you determine the best path forward. Complete the form below and our team will contact you directly.

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