Big data means big business for the IT industry, as chief information officers are keenly aware. That’s why CIOs and other tech leaders are always searching for people with big data skills.
IT managers aren’t the only ones paying attention. Finance and accounting departments are also on the lookout for big data skills, according to research from Robert Half and IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants).
Yet the study additionally reveals that it’s not easy for finance leaders and managers to find employees — either in-house or outside — with the big data skills they need: Ninety percent have trouble hiring staff who bring enough business analytics expertise to the table — skills that can help them analyze and interpret big data.
Opening doors with big data skills
Because big data skills are hard to find, there’s opportunity for finance and accounting professionals who are willing to acquire them, as well as related nontechnical “soft skills” that financial leaders also value. Employees who can offer companies expertise in mining big data and creating strategies around it are in a fortunate position, with greater marketability and higher salaries.
Let’s learn more about the six types of big data skills — both technical and soft skills — that our research showed are most lacking in today’s accounting and finance industry.
Top 3 technology skills
Responses from almost 500 finance executives paint a picture of significant big data skills gaps in businesses today — that is, meaningful differences between the number of respondents who feel selected big data skills are critical for job success and the number who say their teams actually possess these skills. Specifically, the survey found that three of the most gaping big data skills voids in the industry fall within the areas of identifying key data trends, data mining/extraction and operational analysis:
- Identifying key data trends — When it comes to desired technical skills for finance and accounting roles, the ability to recognize important data trends suffers the largest shortfall, with a 29 percent talent gap in this area. That means the study found a 29 percent difference between the number of respondents who feel this is a critical skill for job success and the number who say their teams actually possess these skills.
This discrepancy exists despite the fact that three-quarters of finance managers reported that identifying key data trends is among the important big data skills for success. Less than half of the managers surveyed (46 percent) have team members who possess this ability, leaving the door wide open for internal and external candidates who can deliver on the need to use big data analytics to see trends, identify patterns and make other strategic findings from the vast amount of information available.
- Data mining and extraction — Finance professionals who want to take advantage of big data opportunities should also focus on acquiring skills in data mining and extraction. These techniques involve analyzing data from large data bases, looking for patterns and relationships that can generate useful new information to help a business create efficiencies, better target customers and reach its financial goals. (Pretty much the definition of big data’s promise in general.)
Here again, we see a significant talent gap (28 percent), though the vast majority of survey respondents said this pair of big data skills is crucial for success.
- Operational analysis — IBM identifies operational analysis as one of the top five use cases for big data. The technique involves scrutinizing a wide range of machine data and combining that with business data to gain insight on concrete solutions about how business results could be improved — for example, by decreasing downtime or making better capacity planning decisions.
While a whopping 82 percent of finance and accounting managers list operational analysis as one of the top three tech skills important to the employer’s success, the talent gap for this big data skill matches data mining at 28 percent.
Find out the starting salaries for big data jobs in your area: Download Robert Half’s Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance.
Top 3 soft skills
Nontechnical big data skills are just as important to finance executives as technical skills, the study found. That’s not surprising when you consider that after finding, mining and analyzing the data, accounting and finance professionals are now often also required to problem-solve by using data analytics to make decisions, improve processes and provide strategic recommendations.
Big data insights will do your company little good if they can’t be communicated clearly and explained in terms of actionable guidance for data-related initiatives. This is why, alongside the top three tech skills described above, finance managers prioritize the soft skills of decision analysis, process improvement and strategic thinking/execution:
- Decision analysis — To be of maximum value, big data must be connected to big decisions. The skill of decision analysis often involves using models that examine the likelihood of certain outcomes to develop insights about various options and potential choices facing companies. Finance leaders pointed to this big data skill as the most significant nontechnical skills discrepancy, with a talent gap of well over one-third (37 percent).
- Process improvement — Following closely behind decision analysis, process improvement also has a significant big data skills gap (35 percent), ranking near the top when it comes to big data skills that finance employers seek yet don’t have in their ranks.
Their desire for this soft skill makes sense if you think about it — big data is only as valuable as the outcomes to which it leads, and the ability to reengineer processes in response to data analytics can produce one of the biggest organizational impacts.
- Strategic thinking and execution — Close to a third of finance manager survey respondents note a talent gap in the area of strategic thinking and execution. These skills involve using the information gained from data analytics to map out the best course of action while keeping constraints in mind. As with decision analysis and process improvement, honing this big data soft skill can help your company proactively manage the business to drive competitive advantage.
With so many finance leaders and managers reporting difficulties hiring staff who understand business analytics and possess other skills that can help them analyze and interpret big data, it’s a smart career move to add big data expertise to your skill set. Take the next steps below to get started on your big data skills development.
Want to learn more about the big data skills that employers are looking for? Read "Building a Team to Capitalize on the Promise of Big Data."