Do Gulf businesses have the skills to capitalise on big data?

Prof Frans Coenen of Liverpool University, examines big data’s challenges for UAE businesses

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Do Gulf businesses have the skills to capitalise on big data? Professor Frans Coenen, director of studies, Online IT Programmes, University of Liverpool.
By  Prof Frans Coenen Published  May 24, 2015

In recent years, businesses across the globe have recognised the potential commercial opportunities offered by big data, the explosion of captured information that enables companies to measure and understand more about their business, often due in part to high-performance computing.

Corporate and non-corporate institutions have been collecting data for years, but not always using it to their advantage. With today's increasingly sophisticated data storage and collation hardware and facilities, there is now an opportunity to bring these data sets together.

At the end of 2014, Mohammed Maseehuddin, principal engagement manager, Microsoft Middle East, announced that the company was "investing heavily" in big data to ensure that Gulf businesses leverage and increase their value and market share. Coming from a large corporation like Microsoft, this commitment of investment in data, previously only a focus of national governments, was a clear sign that the private sector is catching up and recognising the commercial value of big data.

The advantages of big data have been well documented, and governments around the world have been investing in their national infrastructures and people pipelines. It can be anticipated that a corresponding investment from the private sector will only serve to improve the global standing of individual nations in this growth sector. In the UAE, the results are clear: the UAE was ranked as the 12th most competitive nation in the world in 2014/15 by the World Economic Forum. Without this wider support, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) region could face a shortage of data science and data analytics talent to inform business decisions and growth strategies.

While public and private sectors agree that big data is a good thing, there remains a concern that there will be a shortage of skilled men and women with the technical abilities to provide for big data commercial solutions. For individual IT professionals the accelerating big data trend presents major opportunities, if they have the right skill set.

Since big data is still a relatively fresh concept, there is no one specific profession or job title, but instead a variety of complementing skill sets, required to be efficient. Although research shows that senior IT professionals worry big data may prove too complex for some organisations, it is vital that IT department managers and their technical staff have a clear understanding of the latest developments so that they can effectively manage projects that utilise big data.

For example, when a network administrator is talking about an issue, requesting resources or investigating a network project, a lack of big data intelligence can prevent managers from understanding where the critical concerns are that need to be addressed. This can have a costly impact on organisations if ill-informed decisions are made or issues are dealt with too late. For the public sector in particular, this can result in less funding being given to deliver projects.

The recent uptake in postgraduate IT programmes online confirms the demand for these skills, with many professionals seeking to develop specialisms in this area. Employers also stand to benefit from this trend as it enables employees, whether at manager level or CTO level, to develop skills in certain areas and apply them in their daily work.

The IT industry is seeing an increasingly competitive market for well-paid jobs, and having the edge can make the difference in one's career trajectory. Gulf businesses should look out for this shift in skill set, to not only meet the demands that big data presents but also to build their companies and the region in leading the way on big data.


Professor Frans Coenen is deputy head of the University of Liverpool's Department of Computer Science and director of studies for the University's 100% online IT degree programmes for working professionals.

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