Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Dr. Michael Rappa, Big Data Commission Academic Co-Chair; founding director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University and principal architect of its Master of Science in Analytics degree program

By Dr. Michael Rappa

There are various studies looking at the current shortfall of talented analytics experts in today’s data-hungry workforce. But here in the Tarheel State, we’ve focused our attention towards the future – akin to a living, breathing predictive model – to create a dynamic program that trains brilliant minds to handle data, and leading to the ultimate outcome: job offers to 90 percent of our graduating students.  

By now many of us have heard about how quickly data is growing (from 1,200 exabytes in 2010 to 35,000 exabytes by 2020, as predicted by IDC). The promise for a better understanding of data is one of the reasons a $200 million Big Data research and development initiative was announced by the Obama Administration last spring.

To further explore the various ways our government can benefit from data, I recently participated in a Big Data Commission led by the TechAmerica Foundation, along with my academic peers and leaders from the technology industry and government. Our findings are detailed in a report, entitled Demystifying Big Data: A Practical Guide to Transforming the Business of Government, that outlines how big data can be utilized to better serve the country and citizens.

The increasing need for data-relevant skills is evident in recent estimates from analyst firm Forrester, which state that firms effectively utilize less than five percent of available data, mainly due to the lack of proper data training and expertise. Keeping this in mind, it is important for more universities to prepare students for future job opportunities related to data handling. The Big Data Commission report backs up the notion that there is a need for these kinds of data handling skills, and at North Carolina State University (NCSU), we work hard to help students realize the enormous opportunities they have in this field. As highlighted by the report, we found that one of the keys to seizing the big data opportunity in government lies in educating and training our federal workforce in analytics and data science.

As discussed in articles from the Washington Post and New York Times, universities and colleges across the country are developing data analytics focused curriculum and degree programs aimed at closing the skills gap. As a professor involved in supporting both NCSU’s Institute for Advanced Analytics and its Master of Science in Analytics (MSA) degree program, I have experienced first-hand how students are embracing these new technological competencies. The first of its kind NCSU MSA program helps provide students with the practical quantitative skills and technical business understanding needed to transform them into highly sought-after analytics professionals.

Our dynamic MSA curriculum is aimed at meeting the constantly evolving needs of both student and employer and since the program’s 2007 inception, over 90 percent of our MSA students have received offers of employment by graduation. And these offers aren’t only from the IT sector. Our students are being hired by a variety of industries, from new ventures to large multinationals. Additionally, on average, experienced MSA graduates are earning a nearly 30 percent higher salary ($100K vs. $77K), compared to their less experienced counterparts – further exemplifying the continued demand for skills and prospect for growth within this field.

In addition to recommending that the Federal government establish an IT Leadership Academy to provide Big Data and related IT training and certification, our assessment emphasizes the necessity of data intensive degree programs and scholarships to prepare the next generation of data handlers. Another of our recommendations is to better leverage big data talent by establishing analytics and Big Data internships for college students to bring their skills to government agencies, giving students with high tech skills a foothold in organizations and departments that are in need of their help. Incorporating analytics and evidence-based reasoning across all areas of business, from marketing to economics, and political science to government relations, allows students to combine their technical savvy and business skills, providing them with more well-rounded business sense.

For the government specifically, the inability to capture, sift through, and analyze the growing amount and variety of data can prove hugely detrimental, as data handling will be crucial to solving our country’s challenges. In addition, it will help our government spur innovation, strengthening our economy through technological advancements in business and society. As explained in a recent opinion piece for The Hill by IBM Senior Vice President and Big Data Commission Co-Chair, Steve Mills, government officials who are armed with Big Data will be better able to address current issues, predict future ones, and have the insight to make more informed decisions on behalf of the American people.

As businesses, government and universities embrace new training and instruction we will see the true potential of Big Data and the impact it will have in the world. 

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