Big Data Summit 2014: “Some of the best data scientists are already in our business” says Northumbrian Water

By Peter Gothard
27 Mar 2014 View Comments

IT decision-makers looking for a solution to the data science skills gap shouldn't necessarily look outside their organisation, but instead look at reorganising how departments communicate, Northumbrian Water's CIO, James Robbins, has argued.

Speaking on a big data strategy panel at Computing's Big Data Summit 2014 conference in London today, Robins shared his experience:

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"Some of the best scientists we've found are actually already in our business, and we've brought them in [to the IT department]," said Robbins.

"We created the Gartner BICC [business intelligence competency centre] in January this year, and we took people from all over the business into one function, with the idea that they can use any tool, rather than Oracle Forms or whatever was their original skill."

Robbins said he's discovered that the biggest challenge with looking outside the business is encouraging a new intake to change their time-worn methods.

"What I've found with hiring is that getting people to change and adopt and embrace newer forms of technology has been a real challenge; so it's been a lot easier to go into our own business rather than into the marketplace to find the right people."

Trevor Attridge, CIO of marketing firm MEC, agreed, citing the advantage of giving data-capable employees the space to get to know each other, and build new ideas.

"You need to set yourself up for innovation," said Attridge.

"You need to have an innovation ‘section' where IT has a say, but it's really a walled garden - where you hot house your staff," he added.

"There, you let your business scientists and statisticians, and those who are familiar with MongoDB and that kind of stuff, to operate and then operationalise that back with IT's help so a more formal structure can be supported within the business."

This way, argued Attridge, "new tools will start migrating into the business, and the cycle will continue".

"It's not one person you're looking for - it's a team, a blend," said Robbins.

"If you can't find that complete person, why not have a stats guy, a web developer and a business person all together in one room, and trust them to work it through and build the right team?"

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