Andy Cotgreave, Social Content Manager at Tableau Software, explains why analytics tools can play a key role in determining the success of Britain's future leaders
How do you define the skills that make for a strong, successful leader? For some it's the ability to make difficult decisions. For others, the ability to lead by example and inspire is the key. For the next generation of leaders in the UK, it seems that this is a question that is becoming increasingly difficult to answer. Put simply, the quantity of data in both our personal and working lives is growing at a seemingly exponential rate. As a direct result, tomorrow's leaders face a challenge today; should they embrace this data and use it to interpret the information they have at their fingertips? Or do they reject it and lead British industry into the data dark ages?
Of course, the challenge faced by leaders in twenty or thirty years time seems like a long way off. Nonetheless, there's a very good reason why today's leaders should sit up and take notice of the dilemma that ultimately their successors will face. The decisions made by those currently at the top of the leadership tree could have a profound impact on the ability of our future decision-makers to succeed.
Take the Budget statement made by Chancellor George Osborne in March of this year. The IT skills gap is commonly regarded as a pressing concern for British businesses. Despite these concerns, the Chancellor was unwilling to invest in educational programmes to fill the gap. It was a decision that left many industry observers up in arms. If today's government won't do anything to 'mind the gap' in terms of IT skills in schools, then where does that leave us? In an increasingly data-centric world, the students of today could be responsible for tomorrow's Britain being left behind if they aren't given the skills they need.
This is not a problem that only affects industries in the UK. The European Commission recently predicted that there will be between 300,000 and 800,000 unfilled IT vacancies across Europe by 2015. There's a continued requirement for IT skills, but not enough skilled workers to fill the roles. If left unchecked, this could turn from a localised, short-term issue to a longer-term problem with ramifications for Europe as a whole. One solution is for the UK to lead the way. By making data, and the ability to understand it one of the cornerstones of our education system, we can set an example for the rest of the world. There's also a role for business intelligence (BI) tools to play in terms of preparing tomorrow's decision-makers for a world in which the data deluge is king.
Perhaps the biggest misconception around BI tools is that only people chained to a desk next to the IT department use them. The truth is that BI solutions are amongst the simplest and easy-to-use of all business tools. Used correctly, they can also be the most effective - and not just for the IT department. An increasing number of organisations are realising that these tools are becoming so easy to use that they can be rolled out to everyone. Regardless of their background or areas of expertise, employees are now becoming increasingly able to analyse and visualise data sets that they encounter on a daily basis. As a result, they can make quicker and better-informed decisions. This allows them to become better at their jobs, without having to go through the bottleneck of an IT department or a 'data scientist'.
The benefits of exposing students in schools, colleges and universities to this philosophy are obvious. These tools are being designed with the user in mind and are becoming increasingly easy and intuitive to use. However there's still a need to ensure that students are exposed to them from an early age. Familiarising students with the ability to analyse data throughout their education, means they are more likely to view large data sets as an opportunity rather than a challenge. As a result they will be far better equipped to deal with a world built on a foundation of big data.
This would allow tomorrow's leaders to make data-informed decisions faster and more effectively. The ability to analyse and interpret data would also make these leaders more transparent and accountable for their decisions. Imagine, for example, a Budget statement made by a Chancellor 20 years from now. Plans are outlined for the fiscal year illustrated by visual demonstrations of the thought process behind the decisions. These demonstrations would use graphical representations of real data sets based on economic performance statistics as proof points.
There is increasing pressure placed on governments and businesses to provide more accountability. To meet these demands they need to disclose the data behind the decision-making process. This will increasingly become an everyday part of our future leaders' lives and careers.
Tomorrow's leaders will have to understand the need for more transparency and act more transparently. The increased influx of data available means there will be a data audit trail available to those who want to scrutinise these decisions. If tomorrow's leaders are to be fully prepared for this brave new world of data scrutiny, then today's students must be encouraged to embrace business intelligence tools. BI tools have a significant role to play in the future of British industry. If British industry is to avoid being left in the data dark ages, today's student and tomorrow's leaders must be given the tools they need to take the UK and Europe into a new era of data-driven prosperity.
Follow Andy Cotgreave on Twitter: www.twitter.com/acotgreave