When most marketers use the word ‘data’, what springs to mind are large sets of numbers, Excel spreadsheets, cloud-based IT systems and complicated algorithms. Big data speak is the mot du jour. There is even a big data Week in London called the Festival of Data.
Strong demand for data analytics skills is pushing up wages for qualified professionals and turning big data into a big pay for data analysts.
This was the key finding of the inaugural 2013 Skills and Salary Survey Report published by the Institute of Analytics Professionals of Australia (IAPA), which showed the median salary for an analytics professional was almost twice the median Australian full-time salary.
But the good news also came with a warning that data analysts must stay close to the needs of the business they serve if they wish to retain their high-paying roles into the future.
According to IAPA’ chairman, and director for insight solutions at Deloitte, Doug Campbell, some organisations are already responding to the wages pressure by setting up data analytics teams in lower-wage economies.
“The challenge for the analytics professionals in Australia, to maintain that high monetary reward, is they have to stay close to the value,” Campbell said. “And that is not the actual algorithm, it is the operationalisation of the algorithm, and getting the outputs into business processes and transactional systems.”
Campbell said the best analysts, and those who progressed from practice to general management, were those that could work with the business to determine what analytics were required to make or save money.
“The advice to our membership is, to avoid the labour arbitrage situation, you’ve really got to get close to the business process, and that is the way to differentiate,” Campbell said.
Campbell said education institutions, including Deakin University, the University of Technology Sydney and the University of South Australia, were responding to the demand for analytics professionals by putting on new courses.
The IAPA survey investigated the attitudes, activities and remuneration of Australia’s data analytics professionals, and found a clear trend that demand for analytics skills was driving wages upwards.
“The majority of people who responded have had pay rises over the last few years, whereas in other roles that has been harder to come by,” Campbell said. “The salary, when compared to the average Australian, is obviously significant.”
The rising demand for analytics professionals was reflected in IAPA’s membership, which has grown to more than 3500 members in Australia since its formation in 2006. Campbell suggested a big driver in jobs and salary growth has been the increased pervasiveness of digital technologies across a broader range of organisations.
“The barriers to commence have slipped away due to digital, so digital is the catalyst for the need for a lot of analytics skills across many use cases and many domains,” Campbell said. “And digital leaves a huge data trail that can be analysed to understand behaviours within the digital channel, and across channels.”
Campbell said there was also a trend for professionals to move from traditional analytics employers such as banks to a broader range of organisations, including pure digital organisations.
“It is interesting to see people being pulled from well-paid tier one banks into less well-known digital organisations, but obviously it is a career challenge for those people to work in a digital domain,” Campbell said. “Because if you have skills in conducting analysis in the digital environment you are going to be even more in demand in the future.”
The IAPA survey will be repeated in the coming years to provide annual comparisons.