Kate Newhouse, CEO of Blenheim Chalcot, discusses why data scientists are increasingly influencing business success
‘Data’ was a top buzzword of 2018 – from one scandal to another, breaches and misuses were almost continuously making headline news. That’s because data is quickly becoming one of the world’s most valuable resources. In return for the scrolling capacities Facebook provides, the variety and speed Amazon deliveries offer, and the vast information bank opened by Google’s search engine, users pay nothing. They simply hand over their data, data they didn’t even really know they possessed.
Every day millions of consumers unknowingly hand over huge amounts of data, giving tech giants access to a deep pool of data and information, fueling algorithms and informing new products. But, much like unmined diamonds are invaluable, the key to mining this precious resource is the humble data scientist.
Last year was the tenth anniversary of the birth of the “data scientist”, the tech-child of LinkedIn’s DJ Patil and Facebook’s Jeff Hammerbacher. Over ten years on, what is a data scientist and just how important are they to our technological capacities?
Part computer scientist, part trend-spotter, part businessperson, data scientists are the latest evolution of analytical data experts, who have the technical skills to solve complex problems, and the curiosity to investigate what problems need to be solved. They use the growing pool of data to construct new solutions and redefine existing systems. As the tech giants grow, and newcomers and startups make waves, these skills are going to be in increasingly high demand and increasingly highly valued.
The shortage of data scientists globally has been widely reported, with the US workforce alone requiring an extra 150,000 over the next year. This isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight. It will take time for education and business to work together to close the gap but dealing with a problem of this scale also requires a revolutionary new way of thinking.
Firstly, scrap the specialist and insular data science team. Instead, we need to create a workforce where everyone has data science skills, is constantly asking questions, and is striving to solve real-world problems. To do this, data science and analysis must be brought into every strand of the organization and utilised at every level, in every project and at every stage.
In 2018, Marks & Spencer announced a new initiative to train existing employees in data science. At Blenheim Chalcot we have become the first in our industry to launch a data science graduate programme to accelerate the development of new talent and to move to incorporate it into every aspect of our work. Ten graduates from some of the UK’s top universities have already started work with our digital ventures, using data science in everyday business activity to enhance results, and this year another 20 will enroll in the programme.
At Blenheim Chalcot, we now have thousands of inquisitive innovators working to overcome the biggest challenges in sectors as diverse as education and financial services – whilst also coming up with problems that need solving in completely different industries too. Look at Instrumental, a fast-growing digital business that is using data to identify the next big thing in the music industry. Instrumental’s fledging artist services division, frtyfve, landed the competitive UK chart Christmas Number One with YouTube star LadBaby.
We are now looking towards a future when curious minds and technology are continuously working together to overcome obstacles in business faster and more frequently than ever before. Data science should be the golden thread running through today’s biggest and fastest growing companies – if recruitment cannot keep pace with demand then we face a crisis point.
 LinkedIn Workforce Report, August 2018