Why data scientists are the next big thing

When StarHub’s recently appointed CMO Jeannie Ong spoke at SMU, she told students: “Forget being doctors and lawyers, be data scientists instead. That’s where the money is at.”

Speaking at the inaugural Analytics Interactive conference, Ong said data today was where the excitement was because it provided a wholesome analytics approach to marketing and filled in the gaps marketers couldn’t always predict or see.

With the rise of trends such as predictive analysis and targeted marketing, it comes as no surprise that the field is fast gaining traction across all industries. In a recent Forbes article, a quick look on employee self-reported salary for the job title “data scientist” saw the median salary at about US$117,500 across nearly 300 jobs in the US. (The number was compiled following a comparison between a survey done by O’Reilly Media, which recently released a survey it conducted in 2012 and 2013 on a conference it held, and job site glassdoor.com, for the job title “data scientist”.)

IBM defines a data scientist as an individual who represents an evolution from the business or data analyst role. What is special about the role is it’s “part analyst, part artist”, said the company.

As for marketing, data provides an important balance to the practice. “As marketers we are used to using our intuition, but data can prove our intuitions wrong,” Ong said. Data clearly tells a marketer the preferences of customers and clearly profiles the customer in a way in which would mean better business.

Currently, StarHub is collaborating with SMU on a SG$50 million project called SmartHub to develop new ways of harnessing data. The project is being funded by the National Research Foundation to train students and develop new data methods, which has seen various organisations come on board to make use of the platform. One interesting discovery made by SmartHub has been Nanyang Polytechnic students creating a mood-sensing algorithm that can help predict customer behaviour.

Other partnerships StarHub has embarked on include partnering with Microsoft to provide Resorts World Sentosa data to better understand customers for more targeted marketing. Meanwhile, Wildlife Reserves Singapore has used the product to track its traffic and footfall analytics.

“The traditional way of marketing is almost gone. While there’s still a need for it, over time marketers will find the need to move and become sophisticated,” Ong said.

“In our industry content might still be king, but data is queen.”