Cisco Prepared for the Data Scientist Drought by Training up the Next Generation of Analysts


According to International Data Corporation, big data and business analytics worldwide revenues will grow from nearly $122B in 2015 to more than $187B in 2019. While this is excellent news for the data industry, such rapid growth can be a double edged sword for those who aren’t prepared. We surveyed 100 Chief Data Officers from some of the world largest companies to find out more about their plans for growth, and the growing pains which go hand in hand with those plans.

Our data revealed that 73% of Chief Data Officers surveyed are planning to grow their data science team by at least three data scientists, with 26% of those planning to recruit seven or more.

With such rapid recruitment planned, it’s no wonder that more than half our respondents reported difficulty sourcing senior analytics talent. According to McKinsey Global Institute, global demand for data scientists is projected to exceed supply by more than 50 percent by 2018, and this data scientist drought is set to disrupt dreams of exponential growth.

One company that refuses to be caught out by the data analyst shortage is Cisco. Their 2016 report on preparing for a data-driven future explained their approach: ‘Instead of poaching top-tier industry talent to fill analytics gaps, we have created an internal education program that teaches employees data science fundamentals.’

In 2016, hundreds of Cisco employees began taking part in a seven-month data science course taught by renowned statisticians, computer scientists, and mathematicians. The course was part of a partnership with the University of Washington and North Carolina State University, aiming eventually to instill comprehensive analytical knowledge within every organisation company wide.

On top of developing their employees through such training, Cisco is involved with more than eight universities to create a pipeline of highly skilled future analytics workers. This kind of involvement early on in an analyst’s education proved to be a very effective approach for attracting future employees.

The Cisco Data Visualisation Lab

Since its opening in February 2015 at Cisco’s San Jose campus in California, the state-of-the-art data visualisation lab has been used for everything from exploratory visualisation sessions to executive showcases. It was in the innovation lab that Cisco’s Finance IT team built a custom finance tool on the MicroStrategy platform. The tool is called the Financial Dashboard, and incorporates embedded algorithms and decision engines with real-time data to help Cisco make the best financial choices. Ultimately that’s the reason Cisco is constantly investing in Innovative data solutions: to continually make the best decisions.

Cisco explained a bit more about how the lab empowers employees to go about problem-solving – ‘Every facet of the data lab is conducive to creativity and collaboration. The large touchscreen and open layout encourage users to stand up, interact, and engage with the data, in contrast to the traditional “I present, you listen” model.’ In addition, the lab also comes fully equipped with a team of resident data analysts, data visualisation experts, and data scientists who join and assist employees for the most streamlined problem-solving process possible.

One month after opening the first innovation lab more than 60 sessions had been hosted, all with the aim of confronting complex business problems. The sessions boosted productivity tremendously, and Cisco lauded the lab as the perfect environment for ‘breaking through difficult or previously insoluble business analysis problems.’ The success of the swanky new lab prompted further investment, and Cisco plans to build data labs at all its major campuses.

The Next Generation of Data Scientists

Currently, Cisco is introducing a new data and analytics training portfolio that focuses on integrated data management and virtualisation. The courses provide extensive hands-on learning and are available for the public at a price, although there is a prerequisite of familiarity with some of Cisco’s systems and other training.

The first course in the portfolio is Cisco Big Data Analytics, Architecture and Management (ANDMB) which helps employees to better understand Big Data infrastructure requirements, considerations and architecture and application behavior. For those who already have a foundational knowledge, Cisco also offers an advanced version of this course, which covers some of the major architecture designed to cater to different needs of the application, data center or deployment requirement.

Having successfully trained many of their employees into experts on analytics and big data, Cisco clearly recognises a gap in the market – one which many companies are currently plastering over by recruiting external talent. But as the demand for data scientists continues to grow, Cisco is offering a more sustainable option for others to follow suite and upskill their existing employees.

Make sure to download the Data Leaders Summit agenda to check out all of the great activities, speakers, and sessions planned for this year.

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