The UK's small and medium-sized businesses are making almost no use of big data analytics, a new IT skills report has found. However, among larger businesses, demand for big data specialists is expected to triple, increasing competition for staff in the business intelligence sector.
The Big Data Analytics: Adoption and Employment Trends study, conducted by technology skills council e-skills UK for business intelligence firm SAS, estimates that less than 0.2 percent of UK SMEs are using big data analytics, with a fifth of all businesses admitting they have "poor" or "very poor" understanding of the issues and technology surrounding big data.
The gap in demand for big data analytics between SMEs and larger businesses is unsurprising, as the amount of data collected by SMEs will typically be significantly less than large global organisations.
However, as the tech industry moves further into the realms of collecting data on every aspect of business operations and customer behaviour, tech vendors may wish to take heed and look to find better propositions for the collection and analysis of vast swathes of data on their customers.
With such demand for skilled employees, smaller businesses may be left out in the cold as highly sought-after analysts head to big corporations instead.
Lord Stephen Green, minister of state for trade and investment, said the uptake of such areas is crucial for economic development. "The UK now has the opportunity to take a lead in the global efforts to deal with the volume, velocity and variety of data created each day," he said.
"To do this we need to ensure the government, academia and businesses work together to further develop the skills available to us today and actively support programmes that nurture development in the next generation."
Meanwhile, larger businesses are ramping up their big data projects rapidly, with the number of UK big data specialists in bigger firms expected to more than triple from around 20,000 to 69,000 in the next four years.
The increase in demand has resulted in a shortage of personnel with the right skills for the job. E-Skills' study found 57 percent of recruiters found hiring big data specialists either "fairly" or "very difficult" to fill.
The report adds that data analytics skills go beyond employees working in IT or data teams. It says that in large organisations with a big data strategy, there are around 94 "big data users" working with front-end tools such as dashboards and performance data. In 2012 the report estimated that a total of 233,000 people held big data jobs in large UK firms, but predicts that this will increase by 177 percent by 2017.
Bodies across all sectors of IT have warned of a looming skills crisis for many years For employers, this means they are forced to compete for a relatively small number of skilled individuals.
Philip Treleaven, computer science professor at University College London, highlighted the importance of an increasingly data-aware economy.
"There is a real need to focus on business analytics and in particular ask our colleagues working in social sciences to look at the development of courses that will tap into the richness of information that is available from consumers through initiatives such as customer loyalty," he said.
"We also need to bring students to the industry organisations that are already working with big data. If we find the right student and place them with the organisation, it provides the businesses with resources to explore just how they can turn insight from their data into business innovation."
In October, retail giant Tesco said it was having no problems at all in finding skilled data analysts, which it attributed to its firm footing in the UK's higher education system and its well-known brand.
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