The Data Science Unicorn is a rare and elegant beast with a combination of technical, data science and business skills – not quite a mythical creature, but certainly not easy to find.
Data native companies that already harness the magical benefits of a Unicorn are over 10% more productive than ‘dataphobes’. The plucky quest for the Data Science Unicorn is one that every cognitive company should be undertaking in order to monetise its data.
Unlike other mythical creatures, such as the Visualisation-Veela and the CyberSphinx, the Data Science Unicorn population is on the rise and taking the world by storm. Gartner predicts that 90% of large organisations will have a Chief Data Officer by 2019, and many have already partnered with academia to drive innovation and fill skills gaps.
Organisations in all sectors are looking for a Unicorn with a technical background, good business understanding, comprehension of the fundamental principles of mathematics, and crucially, a rainbow horn full of curiosity. The ability to ask the right questions before applying theoretical developments to real-world business challenges is what makes this beast so rare. Business leaders often cite this quality as paramount to their strategic development.
Providing the Right Habitat
The next strategic challenge is to decide whether to keep Unicorns in their own stable or to let them freely roam, mixing with other teams.
Organisations manage this differently: where they may currently have rather solitary animals, the expectations are that as they proliferate, Unicorns will soon begin to live alongside each other and even amongst herds of other, more traditional, business animals to provide joined up implementation of data science projects.
10 years ago, big data was seen as a magical route into customers’ minds, but the majority of this was ‘dark data’, lying unused due to lack of technical ability, cleanliness and management buy-in. Feeling at home in the data forest and having the ability to turn dark data to thick data provides huge benefits across the organisation. More descriptive and individualised, dark data needs a Unicorn’s touch to manage it and extract behavioural patterns.
The riddle of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is attracting the gaze of many Data Science Unicorns. Wetherspoons (which some may say has not yet found its Unicorn) recently decided that processing risks outweighed the data’s value and deleted its customer database. For organisations closer to being data native however, providing the habitat to grow in-house skills and data policy will present opportunities of supernatural size.
Many businesses are on the same quest due to explicit skills gaps in the market, hunting for a Unicorn with the curiosity to answer their strategic data science challenges.
TechUK (the WWF of Data Science) released a report in October 2016 entitled: “Understanding, Demystifying and Addressing the UK’s Big Data Skills Gap” . The report highlighted the lack of digital skills, the potential for 157,000 new jobs and £241bn in economic value specifically related to Big Data. Whilst the government is trying to fill the skills gap through education and apprenticeships, the report demonstrates over 2,100 vacancies for Data Analysts and over 480 for Data Scientists.
It will take more than a wave of a magic wand to rustle up these kind of skills and this report indicates that there are many more hunters than Unicorns. However, amongst other solutions, TechUK advocates using the Apprenticeship Levy net to train STEM graduates, retain talent, and to grow Unicorns from within rather than cast around for wild ones.
Grow your own Unicorn
What if, as TechUK suggests, the quest for your own Unicorn didn’t require the expense of a recruitment hunt, but you could instead grow them in-house?
Using specialist and experienced training providers can upskill employees with good maths, data skills and a strong understanding of your business – with that added rainbow horn of curiosity.
Talent development in both technical training and business insight is easy to access, and it shows your commitment to employees by investing in their careers. Higher Education providers such as the University of Exeter, deliver professional development, degree apprenticeships and executive education targeted to business needs. Professor Richard Everson, Chair of Computer Science at the University of Exeter, welcomes contact with business partners at the University. “Working with partners increases our understanding of industry needs and ensures that our programmes face the real world.”
It’s a stance that will help you grow your Unicorns in a tailored way for your organisation: Enjoy your quest!