Want a Job? Analytics is the Thing, Says IBM

By Spencer E. Ante

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Benjamin: Yes, sir. Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? Benjamin: Yes, I am. Mr. McGuire: Plastics. Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

When Mr. McGuire famously whispered the word plastics to a young and confused child of the suburbs played by Dustin Hoffman in the classic movie The Graduate, the idea was that plastic was the future and young Benjamin should get with the program.

Well, if The Graduate were remade today, the new buzzword for the young could be “analytics.” Thanks to the Internet, the world has become a swelling ocean full of data. One grand challenge of our age is to find a way to harness that data. And that’s where the burgeoning field of analytics comes in. Companies as large as IBM and as small as Twitter are looking to hiring people who can boil down this ocean of data into knowledge and insights that can help improve the performance of their businesses.

But the field is so new and growing so fast that there just aren’t enough qualified workers who can do these jobs. IBM currently has over 2,500 job postings for analytics-related jobs, and 60% of its new hires come from universities.

So IBM is taking the matter into its own hands. On Dec. 9, Big Blue announced that it was working with Fordham University’s School of Business to create a new business analytics curriculum to help prepare students for jobs in the field. IBM is currently working with several other schools on similar initiatives, but this is the first program that IBM has announced.

Starting in the spring of 2010, students will be able to take courses and get hands-on training in business intelligence, data analytics, data mining and other related areas. Companies that applied analytics-derived insights performed better than their peers, according to a new study of 400 executives that IBM released on Dec. 9.

“In this world, intelligence is replacing intuition,” said Ambuj Goyal, a former IBM researcher who is now General Manager of IBM’s Business Analytics and Process Optimization Group. 35,000 people now report to Goyal, according to IBM.

Fast-growing tech startups also have a lot of analytics jobs that are hard to fill. Envangelos Simoudis, managing director of the venture capital firm Trident Capital, said that 12 of the 50 companies in his firm’s portfolio are focused on the analytics market. And many are learning it’s not easy to find data miners and number crunchers to do the job. “In the last year, it was those companies that did better and continued to hire,” he says. “But it’s still difficult to find people with the right background.”

Simoudis believes the demand for these jobs will only grow thanks to several big trends. One is the sheer data explosion. When Simoudis was working in the software business in the 1980s, he said data warehouses use to handle two terabytes of data. Today, just one small online ad network is generating 100 terabytes of data, while social network Facebook is spewing out 1.5 petabytes of data a year, or 1,500 terabytes. All those status updates and party photos consume massive amounts of data.

The second trend is that decision making has become much more performance based. Intuition is out. Metrics are in, especially in a tough economy where every dollar counts. Lastly, there has been a democratization of data. The rise of the Web and dashboard technologies is giving more and more people the ability to access data. And they want it.

Big Blue has gone mad for analytics this year. In April, it launched a new services unit with 4,000 consultants devoted to the field. Subsequently, it opened seven analytics centers around the world in New York, London and Beijing, to name a few places. And the company recently acquired data analytics company SPSS for $1.2 billion and business analytics firm RedPill.

So for all you unemployed youngsters out there who are looking for jobs, I have one word of advice: “analytics.”

- Spencer Ante also publishes the Creative Capital blog. Click here to see more.

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