Data skills “now more important than second language” in business


Data proficiency is now more important than a second language when it comes to required business skills, according to new research.


The ‘Business Grammar’ Report from Alteryx demonstrates how UK business leaders rate data and analytics skills amongst required business skills.

Key findings:

• 95% use data and analytics to inform business decisions today. In 2 years, 41% expect it to be essential to decision-making vs 32% today

• 60% consider data and analytics skills one of the top two skills or capabilities for new employees

• Business leaders now willing to offer a 30% higher salary to someone who is data proficient

• 4 out of 5 business leaders feel that data analytics should be a compulsory part of all MBA programmes

• 31% are now empowering business users with self-service analytics tools

The Business Grammar Report, commissioned by the leader in self-service data analytics, surveyed UK business leaders and found that over a quarter (26%) consider data and analytics skills to be the most important skill or capability for a potential new employee. In total, 60% consider data and analytics skills one of the top two skills or capabilities, with industry experience coming just above (69%). Less than a quarter (22%) now feel that multilingualism is one of the top two qualities for potential hires, despite the fact that a report[i] from as recent as 2014 suggested two thirds of British businesses identified a demand for second languages.

Out of IT and into line of business users

Alteryx research found that the shift in the importance placed on data and analytics has also been reflected in the way businesses manage and interact with data. Recognising that data can no longer be confined to the IT department or technical specialists, the study uncovered that only 15% of UK businesses still leave data analysis to an IT or business intelligence team. In fact, 31% of business leaders are already empowering business users with self-service analytics tools to help them quickly solve daily business challenges.

Data analytics is now considered so integral to business that four out of five (79%) business leaders surveyed feel that data analytics should be a compulsory part of all MBA programmes.

Clive Longbottom, Founder and Research Director at analyst firm Quocirca says, “It is apparent that analytical skills are at the forefront of business’ needs. However, the search for the mythical ‘data scientists’ is not the way to solve the problem of analysing the massive amounts of data organisations are now dealing with. The key is to both make data easily available to end users, to enable them to pull together disparate data sources and to then be able to see the data via visualisations that enable them to tease out the valuable insights required. The aim needs to be to democratise data; focusing on training employees on how to meaningfully analyse the data and use it add value to the business through knowledge collaboration. This pulls data control away from the IT department and puts it where it should be – in the hands of the lines of business”

“Our research found that UK business leaders would be willing to offer a 30% higher salary to someone who is data proficient over one who isn’t,” commented Stuart Wilson, VP EMEA, Alteryx, Inc. “The change in attitude that’s taking place in boardrooms today shows the value of being data-savvy and how important it is that effective analytics are made available to business users. It makes sense to equip every business analyst with self-service tools that allow them to ask questions of their data.”

Driving data decisions

Decisions about how data is looked after are spreading throughout organisations. In total, 40% of those surveyed reported that decisions about how data is accessed, integrated and analysed still lie with the IT team, but 26% reported this is the purview of departmental leaders and 29% attributed this responsibility to the executive leadership. Furthermore, over two thirds (68%) feel it’s become easier to get the data needed for decision making over the last year.

“Most organisations depend on the IT department or business intelligence team for analytics-based decision-making, but things are changing. Business leaders are demanding more agile and flexible insight. Organisations can boost the speed and quality of analytics by adopting a “DIY approach” and providing self-service analytics tools,” Wilson explained.

“In the last few years, we have seen tremendous change in the data landscape,” commented Andy Cotgreave, senior technical evangelist at Tableau. “We’ve moved from a place where data was hidden away in the darkest corners of an organisation to a point where it can be harnessed by almost anyone. Every business user has the opportunity to uncover value in data, and the research from Alteryx shows this has been recognised at all levels in UK business.

“Data has opened up competition in the modern business world – we know that the answers companies want are out there, waiting to be discovered. The winners are those organisations which equip and educate their teams to find and share them,” Cotgreave continued.

Challenges remain

The research highlighted that a number of challenges still exist around data analytics in business. When it comes to getting the data needed for decisions, incomplete data is the biggest problem for 43% of business leaders. Just under half (46%) of the time, data received from another department or business division needs to be cleaned, repaired, or re-organised before it’s ready for analysis. Only 31% of those surveyed report that their teams have all the data they need in one place, with 41% reporting that they use data from more than five separate sources for decision making.

The research consists of UK findings from a survey of 263 senior UK business decision makers undertaken in June 2016. Participants were manager or director level. Commissioned by Alteryx, the research was conducted by independent business consulting firm, Morar. The Business Grammar Report can be accessed here.

Additional findings from the research, of those surveyed:

• 95% of UK business leaders currently use data and analytics to make or contribute to business decisions.

• 92% of business decision makers consider data analytics to be important to decision making in their role. In two years, 41% expect it to be essential, compared with 32% today.

• Over half of the decisions they’re currently making (56.6%) require data to be effective, but UK business leaders currently feel that only 58% of these decisions are actually supported by enough data.

• According to two thirds (67%) of respondents, expectations from the management team have increased over the last three years, when it comes to the amount of data used to drive business decisions. No one reported a lowering of expectations.

• 59% of those surveyed report that they or their teams still use Excel spreadsheets for data analysis, far outstripping any other system, application, or data source.

• Excel spreadsheets are still the most popular way to share analysis internally, used by 49% of respondents. Static reports are the second most popular, with 40% using them, while visualisation tools were a distant third at 20%.

• When it comes to data management and use, cloud-based operational applications – such as Salesforce or Marketo – are only used by 30%, while only 22% have cloud-based storage or analytical environments, such as Amazon RedShift.

• The age group with the strongest belief that the ability for business users to get the data and do analytics themselves is more beneficial to their organisations was the over 60 cohort. Similarly, this age group over any other felt that having a wider range of data sources available to combine and analyse would be most important to them. In each instance the 60-plus contingent led the next nearest age group by 39% and 7% respectively.


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