Data is the new oil of the digital economy

with Associate Professor Marta Indulska

The world has seen a stunning increase in the amount of data generated each day. Such data, created by individuals, organisational systems, and sensors, among other sources, has the power to provide competitive advantage for business.

This is primarily because data can provide clarity in business decision-making and therefore reduce related risk. It is not surprising then that data has recently been referred to as 'the new oil'. However, like oil, data can also be messy – its advantage can only be realised when data is strategically collected and managed, and meaningfully combined and analysed to create information of value to the business.
Therefore, to help unlock the value of data, businesses are increasingly making investments in data science – a discipline that combines statistics, mathematics and technology knowledge into a suite of methods and tools for the analysis of data of various types. So high is the demand for professionals with data science skills that it is arguably one of today’s hottest IT professions.

By 2018, the US alone will have a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 professionals with data science expertise. It is easy to see why such strong demand exists in today’s globalised and hyper-competitive world of business – data science helps organisations to unlock new, innovative ways to use data which can result in a spectrum of improvements from efficiency gains through to creating new business models.

The field’s related techniques have far-reaching applications in virtually all industries.

Insurance companies can more effectively identify underwriting risks, perhaps going as far as using vehicle telematics to inform premium pricing. Data from sensors in expensive mining or aviation equipment can be used to predict the ideal servicing times that ensure safety while reducing waste. The medical profession, through its move to electronic health records, can create insights that have never before been possible. The humble corner store can develop a better understanding of its customers and predict future sales.

These are just some examples of the wide application that we are witnessing, and will continue to witness, due to data science initiatives in business. Furthermore, advances in hardware in future years will continually make it faster and cheaper to crunch an ever-bigger amount of data, also presenting new opportunities for real-time use of data analytics.

The possibilities are exciting and endless. However, as organisations embrace the era of data-driven transformation they also need to be prepared for a variety of changes.
Availability of information can shift power, highlight under-performing areas, and change organisational culture, among other impacts. So, while reaping its benefits, today’s senior management also need to be prepared to face the challenges that can result from data science initiatives, including the sometimes grey area of ethical use of data.

This year, UQ launched a new Master of Data Science program to address the current global shortfall in data science experts.

Combining computing, statistics, mathematics, legal and ethical studies, communications and a choice of business, finance, health or science, students have the opportunity to become a sought-after specialist in their field of choice.

Visit eait.uq.edu.au/MDS to learn more.

Image: Professor Shazia Sadiq teaching a student in the brand new UQ Master of Data Science.