Although technology companies like Teradata and SAS are making data easier to use, business will need well-educated analysts for years to come, according to Jerry Oglesby, senior director for global academic and certification programs at SAS, the global analytics specialist.
In my recent piece about Teradata Aster, I noted their assertion that new Aster tools could reduce the need for data scientists by 80 percent, using one to set up a function and then turn the operations over to business analysts.
Oglesby disagrees; he thinks analysts will be in demand for years.
SAS is working with universities around the country, and abroad, to develop programs for analysts mostly at the masters level.
“We are working hard with a lot of universities to help refocus existing masters or create new ones, and we are trying to convince business schools to re-introduce analytics into their MBA programs,” said Oglesby.Business schools have backed away from deep analytics over the last 20 years; most of their data analysis now is done in Excel.
He likes masters programs that combine analytics with other disciplines such as biology, chemistry, engineering or another field that focuses on solving business problems.
The programs don’t have to be long, he added. North Carolina State University and LSU run 10 months, including a practicum; Northwestern has a 15-month program which includes an internship. SAS also works with universities on SAS analytics certification programs as part of their degree, usually with a minimum of four courses in analytics. The certification is also offered for students who already have a masters.
Oglesby sees growing demand for analysts.
“Everywhere we go we are asked where companies can find candidates with analytical and software skills. While we are making it easier for more people to use the analytical tools, the goal is not to eliminate the need for trained analysts. Companies just don’t have enough of them.”
SAS sees growing demand in supply chain operations and in unstructured data.
“Text mining and social media, unstructured data, is the fastest growing source of data,” he said. “The universities have been a little slow to move in the unstructured direction, although now I am beginning to see they are adding courses that cover unstructured data in their programs.”
Other growth areas are health care, government and fraud detection. In most analytics work, communication skills will be vital to success, he added.
SAS worked with the North Carolina State University to start an analytics program a little over seven years ago. It graduates its sixth class this year.
“One of the things we all pushed for in setting up the program was that the students needed to have communication skills. They need to hit the ground running in companies and be able to make a contribution. They that can’t be just sitting in the back room crunching numbers, they need to be able to communicate with colleagues who don’t understand the analytics they are doing.”
A big challenge for analysts is to explain what they have accomplished to people who aren’t necessarily well-educated in data and analytics.
“They need to be able to write reports, present their results and discuss findings with colleagues and people who don’t have the technical skill,” Oglesby said.
Education in data analysis also includes training in privacy and ethics.
“People coming out need to be keenly aware of the rules and concerns over privacy. Part of these programs is to instill in students they realization that they can’t pick up the data and do anything they want with it.”
Data analytics programs are spreading globally. Oglesby is working with North-West University in South Africa and the University of Malaysia and a second university in Malaysia plans to start a program soon. Other SAS colleagues are working with universities across the globe.
SAS has a global academic council made up of academic managers. They meet in person once a year and hold monthly calls.