An article by Natalie Cramp, CEO at Profusion, featured in CIO Applications’ Adobe Special

Natalie Cramp, CEO of data science company Profusion, discusses the key trends that will impact data science in the next 12 months.

2020 was a watershed for data science. From how governments understood and responded to the pandemic, to the way organisations adapted their business – data science was an instrumental year in navigating a difficult year. As we now look towards 2021, and, hopefully, a much happier 12 months, it’s useful to discuss how data science will build on its newfound prominence and will continue to aid businesses.

A lot of organisations will have their 2021 business agenda dominated by working out what did and didn’t work in 2020. An unprecedented amount of money was poured into quickly adapting to new working conditions and consumer and client expectations. Not all of this money will have been well spent and may companies will have identified gaps in their services that they will need to quickly fill.

The first lockdown brutally exposed how many companies had deficient logistics, customer service, web design, IT infrastructure, procedures – and yes, data science. A good chunk of these businesses would have believed they had wisely invested in digital transformation and data capabilities in the last decade and should have performed much better.

In some cases these issues will be traced to hiring the data team, buying the tools and integrating the platforms but then not actually adapting the business itself to become data focused or even data literate. In response, I believe educating and upskilling team members in both data and digital skills will grow in popularity. Hand in hand with this, as businesses that lacked even the most rudimentary data capacity seek to play catch up by making hires, we’re likely to see the data skills gap grow further and the cost of creating in house teams rise.

One of the most enduring trends of 2020 is likely to be the hard pivot towards an online economy. This will have a profound impact on customer behaviour and also on fundamental business operations – particularly how organisations cope and capitalise on a remote workforce. I would expect as well as a great deal of investment being made in Business Intelligence and customer analysis, there will also be a new focus on how HR teams use data. This is one of the reasons we are offering a comprehensive training programme for HR workers in a range of data skills and tools through our Data Academy. With a remote workforce and a radically changing business environment it is more important than ever before to be able to understand performance, productivity and morale. Data provides an objective way to monitor and manage teams but businesses need to do the work of educating their HR team and putting in place the systems they need to support the wider organisation. Crucially, because the value of data-driven HR applies in both remote and in person office settings, it’s likely to become a wider, permanent trend.

Ensuring that your organisation has a robust HR function will be especially true given that 2021 will see an acceleration in the trend towards automation driven by AI. In some ways this is an inevitable consequence of the Pandemic. AI has taken centre stage, entering the wider public consciousness thanks to media attention. Although not all of this publicity has been good, it has highlighted AI’s capabilities and how it can have a profound impact on businesses. With many organisations in a rebuild and renew phase, the time is now right for them to take a serious look at how AI and machine learning can help them adapt and ensure their company’s survival. I expect to see a lot of experimentation as businesses seek out the best way to leverage AI and integrate it into existing business models and tech infrastructures. The most progressive companies will recognise that getting value from AI, and indeed other data science techniques, is not just about buying the tools, but also about building the processes and investing in reskilling their workforce. 

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