In recent years, data has become hugely valuable (and accessible) to organisations. Yet even more valuable are people who have the ability to understand, interpret and generate insights from this data.
It sounds like something out of a movie. Countries like the United States and England using mathematical and analytical techniques to identify potential criminal activity.
“It’s called predictive policing,” says Sam Kirshner, Lecturer in Operations Management and Business Analytics at UNSW Business School. “Some countries already use it and it’s one example of how data analytics is changing the world we live in.”
For example, look at the revolutionary way airlines started using maths and statistics in the 1980s. The companies that realised they could set prices based on demand patterns and capacity survived, and those who didn’t were wiped out within two years.
Operations Management And Business Analytics
Data analysts are hot property
“All big companies these days are born digital,” says Sam. “The next generation will be born with analytics capabilities.”
While companies may have the built-in capacity for analytics, it takes highly qualified and specialised professionals to look at data, analyse it, make sense of the information and accurately predict future events based on it.
“Lots of companies are starting to fear that they will be left behind,” says Sam, “And there’s historic evidence to make this fear warranted.
"For example, look at the revolutionary way airlines started using maths and statistics in the 1980s. The companies that realised they could set prices based on demand patterns and capacity survived, and those who didn’t were wiped out within two years."
Sam also points to another example of a technological mass extinction, which happened a few years ago.
“Google decided to make their maps available on mobile phones,” he says. “Almost instantly, Google wiped out dedicated, portable GPS devices.”
While this was an unintentional disruption, it highlights the fact that, “these companies can be taken down in a flash”.
If companies producing portable GPS devices had business analysts looking at their data, Sam says, it’s possible they may have seen the disruption coming.
“Having analytics and people who understand them means companies can be aware of hidden disruption they may not necessarily have seen before,” he says.
“It means they can get ahead and protect themselves from threats from other companies.”
A warning for business, and an opportunity for professionals
It’s a cautionary tale for business, but one that offers countless opportunities for emerging professionals in the area.
“Firms want data analysts because in the next few years there will be a proliferation of data that’s available to companies,” says Sam.
“If businesses don’t have people who understand the rules, regulations and data, they will be susceptible to all kinds of potential consequences.
“Any large firm needs people to analyse the data in different ways, for different purposes. For HR professionals, marketers or people making strategic decisions, data is increasingly being used to inform their decisions.”
The rare skills of data analysts
Data analysts not only have to have technical skills but also an ability to communicate complex information to a variety of people.
“There’s so much more to data analysis than the scientific aspects of making models and cleaning data,” explains Sam. “Professionals in this area need to have communication and presentation skills, so they can tell managers or clients what’s happening in a way that’s understandable.”
“Business analytics is a definite growth area for the future,” says Sam. “That’s why UNSW decided to add the specialisation to its Master of Commerce program. Data analytics students are coming out with experience in building models and cleaning data, but also understanding how information is governed and kept secure.
“The insights that data analysts can provide businesses are second to none.”