A swell of consumer data â from sales numbers to social media feeds â has bumped up demand for workers who can help businesses turn that information into profit, and Iowaâs universities are jumping in to help.
âYou canât pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without somebody yelling âbig dataâ at you. Itâs a reality,â said Nick Street, a professor of management sciences at the University of Iowa.
Within the last year, several Iowa universities have announced plans to start or expand academic programs to address the growth of data and the demand for workers who can tell businesses what it all means.
Drake University will roll out a new data analytics program this school year. The program comes along with plans for a $65 million, six-building complex revolving around science, technology, engineering and math.
âI think culturally weâve become a data-driven world â¦ we just need to have as much information as we can and figure out whatâs important in that information,â said Daniel Alexander, the co-director of Drake Universityâs data analytics program.
âWhere data science comes in is taking these vast sorts of unreadable databases and (distilling) them into something people can use.â
The University of Iowa has had a business analytics undergraduate program for a few years. Earlier this year, however, the university said it will start offering a masterâs program in Cedar Rapids.
It also plans to start offering a certificate program in Des Moines.
âEveryone is collecting tons and tons of data. They donât know what to do with it,â Street said. âThey need to know how to turn it into money.â
In February, Iowa State University announced its own master of business analytics program.
âTease out their secretsâ
Although the traditional view of âbig dataâ involves countless numbers and rows in an Excel spreadsheet, professors at each university say theyâre taking a different path.
Instead of just needing someone who can compile a bunch of figures, they said companies need analysts who can both understand the data and meaningfully interpret it to others.
âBig datasets donât like to give up their secrets really easily, so weâre trying to train students who can collect data, who can develop these datasets, but more importantly can mine them, can understand them, can tease out their secrets,â Alexander said.
Getting at those secrets is important for all companies, especially if it leads to more sales, happier customers and a better bottom line.
âWeâre looking for people that have the skills to take that data, turn it into information and then use it to make business decisions,â said Terry Lillis, chief financial officer for Principal Financial Group.
âCrank this upâ
There is already high demand for these jobs, Street and others said. Itâs only slated to increase.
âOur corporate partners here are wanting more. They want us to crank this up so they can get those skills in their workplace at all levels,â Street said.
At Iowa State, Sree Nilakanta said that although the university already had classes teaching analytics, increased demand prompted a specific program.
âThere is now a specific demand from companies saying, âWe want analytics professionals,â â said Nilakanta, who chairs ISUâs information systems department. âItâs easier now to put a label on it.â
While some technology companies have used data analytics for years, other industries are realizing the larger implications.
âGoogle started hiring, Facebook started hiring and then everybody figured out that we need to get into this game,â Nilakanta said.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of statisticians to grow 27 percent between 2012 and 2022, faster than the 11 percent average. Computer programmer employment is expected to grow by 8 percent.
âEverybody is looking for these types of individuals,â Lillis said.
The bureau doesnât track specific âbig dataâ jobs, instead splitting job projections among other fields, such as statisticians and computer programmers.
In a 2011 report, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. projected the United States would have a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with âdeep analytical skillsâ who would know how to analyze big data.
Job search site Glassdoor.com puts the national average salary for business analysts at about $65,000 a year.
Part of that increased demand, Street said, comes from the need to have people familiar with data in all parts of a company.
âThe tradition is, you hire one or two Ph.Ds and you expect all kinds of brilliance to come out. Well, thatâs not sustainable,â he said. âYou need people to know how to think with data at every level of the organization, and thatâs what theyâre looking for.â