Much ado about data-driven organizations, for good reason


The mega-shift from technology-driven to data-driven organizations raises questions about Oregon’s workforce preparedness.

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The mega-shift from technology-driven to data-driven organizations raises questions about Oregon’s workforce preparedness.

Over the last three decades business has experienced a monumental cross-over period, characterized by the adoption of computing and communication technologies that have revolutionized business transactions in virtually all industries. Moore’s Law still rules across hardware and software platforms, with high tech continuing to double in performance as it reduces by half the respective size and power requirements. Everything continues to get smarter, faster and more integrated in the never-ending quest for more data.

As computing has evolved from adjunct to standard business processes, its unbounded growth has been slowed only by the constraints of space and energy: raw computing power, the speed and cost of memory and storage devices, the bandwidth of broadband networks, heat dissipation, and space constraints. Businesses that were agile and strategic in adopting and integrating wave after wave of these new technologies also tended to lead in innovation and competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Now enter the next big thing: Big Data and its accelerator, the Internet of Things.

Dazzling and dizzying statistics demonstrate how much bigger the data universe has grown: 90+ percent of all data created in history has been generated in the last two years, and is doubling every biennium. Smart phones and tablet devices have far more computing, storing and communication capabilities than the most expensive desktop computers had just a few years ago. In the U.S. there are about 150 microprocessors in the average home and 40-50 in our cars.

Today’s emerging Big Data movement will yield optimal returns to organizations who adjust their strategic planning and implementation efforts using data-centric business drivers. This is changing how information technology divisions within companies are directed, and how well employees are developed with the new organizational and technical skills needed to take advantage of this shift in decision support systems.

Innovation, competitive advantage, and pressures from customers, competitors and boards of directors demand ever faster turnarounds for strategic decisions based on assessing and manipulating massive amounts of data. With answers to strategic questions now obtainable in semi-real time, the window for product and service innovation is shrinking dramatically while expectations for delivery are accelerating.

Oregon and the region must cultivate a new crop of data analysts and scientists capable of capturing, scrubbing, filtering, and processing massive amounts of data from many internal and external sources, and then reporting results to decision makers in understandable ways.  Since only about 5% of captured data today is successfully managed into useful decision support tools, the need for employees to define and manage this newly available data will grow significantly. Analysts say that by the end of 2015 the demand for data and analytics jobs will reach about 4.4 million jobs globally. Yet only about a third of those jobs will be filled based on the current pool of IT professionals.

What are these in-demand skill sets? Data workers must understand the information needs of the strategic decision makers and then craft systems that will process massive amounts of data into executive-ready formats. Departments will increasingly take on more strategic planning roles and will need to employ workers who are not only tech savvy, but also able to work closely with key employees across the organization as data translators, asking the right questions and then finding the answers within mountains of seemingly disparate data. Data analysts must have a working knowledge in network hardware, programming, modern databases, complex system analysis and statistical analysis of data.  

So where are these IT professionals who can help industry with the transition to Big Data as a major component of organizational decision-making? Believe it or not, many are being developed right here in Oregon at our colleges and universities. Because of our partnerships with industry, and the fact that many faculty have industry experience, universities can now move quickly to meet emerging training demands. At my institution, Oregon Institute of Technology, we are ramping up our IT-related programs to include new technologies required for advanced data analysis and decision support systems. Oregon Tech actively promotes internships and we’re listening to our industry partners to determine how to match our graduates with this growing industry need.

Businesses in Oregon, large and small, can improve organizational decision-making by harnessing the massive amounts of data now available to us. But we must have the talent pool to fuel the potential of Big Data. Partnerships between industry and higher education are the key to this. And what better way to spur economic growth, more jobs and a more robust middle class than to partner with higher education to grow your own workforce.

Grant Kirby is an Associate Professor at the Oregon Institute of Technology campus in Wilsonville, and Program Director of Information Technology