The Data Science Unicorn

Lucy Spooner, Lead Consultant at Realise Unlimited, discusses the rise of data science in organisations.

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Data science is a sector in demand. Valued at $19.75 billion in 2016 by the global data science platform MRC, it’s forecast it to hit $128.21 billion by 2022 – this once niche sector is fast earning itself an envied reputation.

This growth is down to the fact that data is starting to play a huge part in our lives both at home and at work, as it embeds itself in many of the day to day technologies we use: voice recognition, image recognition, CV sifting, chatbots, shopping simulations, sentiment analysis and ad engines to name a few. From an organisation's perspective, this means more and more are coming to realise the importance of data science and in turn, AI and machine learning.

Regardless of industry or size, organisations that wish to remain competitive in the age of big data need to efficiently develop and implement data science capabilities or risk being left behind. Without the expertise of professionals who turn data into actionable insights, big data is nothing. Today, more and more organisations are opening up their doors to big data and unlocking its power—increasing the value of a data scientist (unicorn) who knows how to tease actionable insights out of gigabytes of data.

So, what exactly is data science and why is there a sudden need for data scientists in leading organisations?

The official word on data science according to Wikipedia is “…an interdisciplinary field that unifies statistics, data analysis, machine learning and related methods in order to understand and analyse actual phenomena within data." Data science therefore encompasses a variety of the more traditional business roles including data architect, data engineer, modeller and analyst. This means that data scientists crop up in a variety of areas within organisations including IT, digital, central BI, central marketing and analytics and more importantly, strategy.

The skill breadth held by data scientists is becoming increasingly valued as new technologies and languages emerge by the day. Each solve specific problems and, in-turn, provide access to a wealth of data. Whilst this diversity of use is a massive opportunity and a real plus for the sector, the challenge for organisations is adopting these emerging technologies, utilising the capabilities of data scientists and ensuring this information is represented at the top table to ensure it has an impact.

What was once an undervalued and potentially misunderstood discipline, data science now takes on a more significant role within business.
The data explosion has led to a significant increase of investment in big data projects as it is now recognised as an asset that can be leveraged to tap into new sources of business value.

According to MHR analytics, more than three quarters (76 per cent) of UK organisations implemented at least one big data project during 2018. This figure will undoubtedly continue to grow as slower-moving organisations come to recognise the central role that data can play in their future success. More innovative organisations are already investing in efforts to establish a company-wide data focused culture. To help provide a clearer strategic vision of what to do with their hundreds of terabytes of data, we’re seeing the role of Chief Data Officer (CDO), becoming increasingly important and more prominent.

With such a significant role now being fashioned within organisations, good data scientists not only need the technical expertise but also the softer communication skills and business understanding found in today’s most successful leaders.

What was once an undervalued and potentially misunderstood discipline, data science now takes on a more significant role within business.

A recent report from IBM states that demand for data scientists is expected to rise 28 per cent by 2020, highlighting the issue on the talent front of matching supply with demand. With data science jobs already difficult to fill and teams even harder to build, being able to match technical skill sets with the right soft skills is going to be one of the main challenges for organisations as they hunt for that ‘Data Science Unicorn’- the all-encompassing data scientist who poses the soft communication skills and business expertise to deliver organisations genuine value.

A top Data Science Unicorn will be someone who really understands the technical side of data, who can take accountability and interface with the likes of IT whilst being agile enough to drive rapid adoption and can break down the language barriers and gain the trust of the organisations business units at the top table.

With the introduction of positions such as the Chief Data Officer (or in some cases the Chief Analytics Officer), the industry is showing its willingness to embrace data science in the c-suite landscape and with more data literate business teams growing, data and data science are becoming a key foundation in the wider business world.

The challenge now is where to find these Data Science Unicorns...?


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