Demand for ‘sexiest job’ growing among companies

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THERE IS NOW a growing universe of data than most institutions could make sense of, with companies now raring to address the deficit between data and insight by having more data scientists, once tagged as the “sexiest job of the 21st century.”

The universe of data comes literally as according to a 2014 estimate by EMC, the number of digital bits by 2020 could be as much as the number of stars in the universe to about 44 zettabytes. If each data represented a tablet, EMC said the amount would be enough to cover the distance from the Earth to the moon 6.6 times.

But though the world is increasingly awash in data, few institutions know how to use it, much less profit from it.

“What we see in the Philippine market is that companies are still figuring out data management,” said Isaac Reyes, founder of data science firm Data Seer.

As a telling weathervane of where the business trend is now blowing, the Asian Institute of Management has announced the creation of a data science program, to be spearheaded by physicist Erika Legara. Ms. Legara admits that the field is still in its nascent stages in the Philippines.

“Some local companies do look at data but just to look at what is happening and not to make data-driven and automated decisions,” Ms. Legara said.

Besides AIM, other educational institutions are now already starting to develop courses on data science and analytics following the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) memorandum way back in 2013 mandating colleges and universities to establish a business analytics track.

But some admit being challenged by the capital outlay involved to purchase additional hardware and software, on top of low student rolls due to the ongoing transition to the K-12 format.

“We are not ready as of the moment,” said Elaine Boquiren, president of the Entrepreneurship Educators Association of the Philippines and graduate program director of Miriam College. “But I understand that this is a very important development that we need to equip our students.”

Emerson Atanacio, science chair of the of Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said more foreign firms are demanding analytics expertise to guide their decision making, but admits that academic institutions are being hamstrung by challenges to develop courses.

“Our limitation is that we just came from the transition from senior high school so we are not yet in the perfect time to integrate it in our curriculum. But partly we are discussing it in the classroom although we need more in-depth training for analytics,” said Mr. Atanacio, who is also the president of the National College of Science and Technology.

Already, the telltale signs of a new economic model is taking root, where developing markets are shifting from a service-oriented landscape to a more analytical one. IBM, which helped CHEd develop its business analytics track, has also pushed for the country to position itself as an “analytics hub” from being a business process outsourcing (BPO) destination of choice.

With data science giving way to predictive analytics, responses to garden variety concerns of customers in service centers could eventually be automated and taken over by artificial intelligence, supplanting the usual call center work.

“We have to begin planning for the post-BPO era because a lot of the BPO jobs are going to be replaced by artificial intelligence,” said economist and former Socioeconomic Planning Cielito F. Habito.

With a majority of the work force depending on service-led firms such as BPO companies, Mr. Habito said it best to now start upskilling the work force to stave off painful job dislocations.

For businesses, the faster they figure out big data, the bigger the payoff could be.