The wonderful world of data

Adds Rajiv Pratap, co-founder, Abzooba, an analytics firm based out of Calcutta, Pune, and California in the US, “A single tweet, some Facebook comment, or a seemingly innocuous YouTube video ‘gone viral’ …..

Ever wondered why ads of “best package tours” pop up the moment you Google a travel destination? Or sponsored ads of sports shoes appear beside your Facebook or LinkedIn profile, if you happen to be a hiking enthusiast? And, if you have been exchanging mails seeking career advice, display ads of colleges or study centres land up in your inbox? Well, that is the handiwork of data scientists — a new breed of analysts who can crunch huge volumes of data, make sense of it, and help companies make better business decisions.

Bhamidipati Narayan is one such data analyst working with Yahoo Labs (the research wing of the search engine) in Bangalore. His work is to figure out the best advertisement to present to every Yahoo user. If you go by the Harvard Business Review — the definitive guide for world’s top business leaders — Narayan has the ‘sexiest job of 21st century’.

So how does Narayan find out what might interest one among 600 million faceless users? “We analyse the behaviour patterns of users by tracking the terms in the search engine. The goal is to find the ad you are most likely to click on,” says Narayan, who has a PhD in data science. “By mining terabytes of data culled from a zillion ‘search’ terms we try to track probable consumers of a particular product so that the company can reach out to them with pinpoint precision,” he says.

Narayan enjoys his work as it helps him make a “tiny impact” on the lives of Internet users. In other words, the approach maximises the impact of advertisements, spiking sales figures of companies. It also spares unsuspecting viewers or readers from getting bombarded with irrelevant ads.

Mousum Datta analyses the billing database of a retail giant to gain an insight into consumers’ purchasing behaviour — such as how often they shop or what they buy. “The information helps the retailer choose items to stock or organise the store to boost sales,” says Dutta, a senior software specialist at SAS, a leading data analysis firm in Pune.

The retail business is just one of the sectors he looks at. Industries such as banking, insurance, healthcare and even movie production are competing on the back of predictive models of consumer behaviour built through analysed data. Big Data is big business. “It’s a virtual goldmine, the biggest industry that people have started talking about,” says C.A. Murthy of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Calcutta. As a veteran data scientist, he’s been involved with several central government projects such as the Census and the Five Year Plans.

Says Prithwis Mukerjee, head, business analytics, Praxis Business School, “Even movie producers are using analytics to predict blockbuster movies.” Hollywood has indeed discovered Big Data’s talents to determine how to distribute and promote movies. According to a recent article in The New York Times, big Hollywood studios are now hiring data analysts to “compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success”. They have also started using Facebook “likes”, online trailer views and early reviews in Twitter to mould advertising and even films.

“Social media sites are playing a key role in reading consumer sentiments. It’s reshaping areas like the entertainment industry, online marketing and even politics,” says Mukherjee. “A few months ago, a fake message on Twitter reporting explosions in the White House sent the stock market crashing (by 147 points),” he said.

Adds Rajiv Pratap, co-founder, Abzooba, an analytics firm based out of Calcutta, Pune, and California in the US, “A single tweet, some Facebook comment, or a seemingly innocuous YouTube video ‘gone viral’ has often caused significant damage to a company’s image before they even became aware of this online activity.” However, organisations that are proactively listening, analysing, and taking immediate action have not only circumvented loss of credibility but also gone on to gain positive publicity, built customer loyalty and seen their revenues soar.

The data deluge made possible by recent technological advancements has made data analytics the hottest career. “Making sense of Big Data and blending it with business is the key to staying ahead,” says Vivek Belgami, data scientist at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Calcutta. According to Gaurav Vohra, co-founder, Jigsaw Academy, the current decade is witnessing a business analytics boom just like the IT boom in the 1990s. “India has become the global hub for analytics. Businesses from around the world are looking at India to source analytic talent. This country has thousands of professionals with good quantitative skills,” he says.

In fact, recent surveys have identified a shortage of two lakh analytics professionals across the globe. Says Bhasker Gupta, founder of the Analytics India magazine, “India’s analysts will be in high demand because of their domain expertise and English language proficiency.” According to him, web analytics and social media analytics are the areas witnessing a scarcity of trained professionals.

“Such is the talent crunch that entry level salaries of analytics professionals have increased from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3.5 lakh per annum in the last few years,” says Vohra. “Those with over five years of experience can command salaries up to Rs 20 lakh a year,” he adds.

Even though there’s a huge talent crunch in data analytics, not enough qualified people are in the industry because of a lack of awareness. Most leading B-schools have started short courses in analytics. “We are one of the few institutes offering a full-time postgraduate programme in analytics,” says Mukherjee of Praxis. Vohra’s Jigsaw Academy, which offers industry-linked courses, boasts of a placement list that reads like a Who’s Who in the field of IT with names such as IBM, Accenture, Dell and Genpact.

However, people who want to pursue a career in data analytics should keep in mind that as the field evolves, some of the number crunching jobs currently done manually will get automated (for example, data cleansing). More and more automated algorithms are being built in the hope that they will eliminate the need for data analysts. However, data scientists such as Datta and Narayan believe that even with the most sophisticated automations, there will still be a huge demand for sound judgement, domain expertise and hard work. In other words, data scientists are here to stay.

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WHERE YOU LEARN

• IIM-Bangalore: One-year certificate programme in analytics (http://dcal.iimb.ernet.in)
• IIM-Lucknow: One-year certificate programme in business analytics for executives (www.iiml.ac.in)
• Indian School of Business, Hyderabad: One-year certificate programme in business analytics (www.isb.edu)
• IIM-Calcutta: Executive programme in business analytics conducted in association with Hughes Education in the long distance mode (www.iimc.ac.in)
• IIM-Ranchi: Three-month weekend executive programme in business analytics and business intelligence (www.iimr.ac.in)
• MICA, Ahmedabad: Postgraduate certificate programme in research and data analytics (www.mica.ac.in)
• Praxis Business School, Calcutta: One-year full-time postgraduate programme (www.praxis.ac.in)
• Jigsaw Academy, Bangalore: A plethora of courses in classroom and distance mode (www.jigsawacademy.com)
• Coursera (open online course): An eight-week long free course (www.coursera.org)

What you earn

• Entry level: Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs 7 lakh
• Mid-level: Rs 6 lakh to Rs 18 lakh
• Senior level: Rs 15 lakh to Rs 35 lakh
• Where you work

Top IT and business consultancy companies

• Retail giants
• Banking
• Insurance
• Healthcare
• Pharmaceuticals
• Social media

Source: www.telegraphindia.com