Big data means lots of jobs, says McKinsey report

There is a huge amount of raw information out there, and a serious shortage of people qualified to analyze it

Ohad Barzilay (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Ohad Barzilay (Photo credit: Courtesy)

For those seeking a career path, big data is a growth area. A recent report by the McKinsey analytics group, said Ohad Barzilay of Tel Aviv University’s Recanati Business School, indicates that within jut a few years, the United States alone will face a shortage of as many as 190,000 analysts who can figure out how to extract meaning from the huge reams of data that are being collected every second of every day.

And beyond that, the McKinsey report said, companies will need 1.5 million managers who can make use of that information to make intelligent business decisions. Those managers, said Barzilay, will be the vehicle via which big data will have a big impact on society, in ways most people don’t imagine.

Big data has been a bit overused in recent years, Barzilay told members of the MIT Enterprise Forum, the Israeli branch of the worldwide group sponsored by the venerable Massachusetts University, but it’s not just a fashionable tech term that will evaporate after tech journalists tire of using it. “We have the data, and we have developed many ways of gathering it,” Barzilay said, citing the huge stores of data that are being collected by apps, search engines, businesses, universities, and others. “Now we have to figure out how to make good decisions with that data.”

Such decisions are not just relevant for the usual suspects — Internet marketing companies, online merchants, Google, Facebook, and so on. “Let’s say you are developing a mobile game,” said Barzilay. “Analyzing large amounts of data would be very relevant to you as you design features of the game. You could see from how people use it — where they drop out, the parts of the game that are most popular — and use that information to respond to the needs of users.”

Using that information is where intelligent programming and management comes in. “Data doesn’t tell a story,” said Barzilay. “To get a story told you have to ask questions, build a hypothesis.” Getting the most out of data is a matter of four steps, he said; collecting the data, organizing and managing it, discovering the information you need, and developing apps to automate its use. “It’s a four-level stack that works in all big data scenarios,” said Barzilay.

A good example of this in action is in the technology developed by an Israeli start-up called SportVU, said Barzilay. SportVU’s systems parses the actual events at a sporting event in real time, generating information on all aspects of the game in progress. The system consists of six cameras that take in the length of the field, with each player tracked 40 times a second, keeping tabs on their actions. “What this does is create huge data file, which consists of information on where a player is at any given time on the field, in relation to other players, the ball, or any other criteria,” added Barzilay.

Once that data is gathered, the trick is to translate it into useful information. Algorithms build for specific purposes are unleashed on the data, and the information is pushed into apps — like the one that allows team doctors to analyze a player’s activities to see if they are putting too much stress on particular muscles, or taking other actions that may cause an injury. “These players make tens of millions of dollars a year, and teams have a great deal invested in them,” said Barzilay. “Using SportVU in this manner can help them minimize losses to injuries.”

It’s just an example of how big data is being used today, said Barzilay — one of a million and one approaches to using mass online information. “The job opportunities big data offers are limitless,” he added. “This is the tech industry of the future.”

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