How to Equip Yourself for the Data-Driven Future Nearly every industry will be benefiting from professionals with a solid analytical foundation in the near future. Here's how to get into the game.

By Asha Saxena

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Just a few years ago, most business professionals had little involvement in frontline or behind-the-scenes data -- and for good reason. Mining data was a complex, time-consuming task. And if you didn't know the language, translating the information was impossible.

But now, the technology is becoming easier for business leaders to use and decipher. More companies are building their tech internally and capitalizing on the information it provides. Amazon, Google and Capital One have even built their business models around analytics.

The value in developing a data-driven enterprise is clear. You can adequately measure performance, maximize efficiency and make informed decisions that drive growth. But to gain a holistic view of your data, you need to understand what you're looking at.

Nearly every industry will need professionals with a solid analytical foundation in the near future. For example, HR professionals use analytics to tie performance to business objectives.

Related: Hire Better Talent With a Big-Data Scientist

In hospital settings, administrators and physicians need to quickly interpret patient data to make quick decisions. Doctors rely on analytical skills to make precise diagnoses. Imagine a data system that could give doctors suggested diagnoses within seconds of entering a patient's information or that could predict when a patient will become ill before he or she even calls the doctor's office.

The applications for data are endless. Attorneys access analytics to improve their accuracy in cases and even to help them decide which ones to take on. They can make better arguments by sourcing applicable statistics and research from mined data.

No matter the industry, data can equip professionals with actionable insights and vastly improve the efficiency and accuracy of their work.

The level and type of analytical knowledge you will need largely depends on your particular business, your previous experience and the size of your knowledge gap. You could commit to studying to gain a full-blown master's degree or take a quick refresher course every so often. Luckily, there are plenty of routes to choose from.

Related: Marketing, Meet Tech. 4 Tips for Hiring a Data-Obsessed Team.

1. An analytics degree.

Many accredited universities offer data-focused degrees to prepare students for the demands of the professional world. The University of Tennessee, for example, offers a specialized degree in business analytics.

These are serious, time-consuming options and they'll leave you with a more well-rounded knowledge base than shorter courses.

2. Analytics Academy.

Designed by Google, Analytics Academy is a free online tool created by people who know the value of analytics. Its videos and resources will prepare you to complete the Google Analytics Individual Qualification test, which verifies someone's knowledge of Google Analytics.

3. Professional workshops.

You could also invest in a workshop, a short course or a conference instead of committing to going after a longer-term degree. These options are usually designed for professionals and taught by individuals with real-world experience in business analytics.

You can easily tailor them to your specific industry or knowledge gap. Try researching workshop options such as those offered by management consulting firm Aryng and the EMC corporation to find a course that fits your needs.

4. Semester courses.

If you have a solid data background but need to stay on top of analytics trends and languages for your work role, consider semester- or quarter-long courses at universities. These courses are usually offered through statistics or computer-science departments and can help professionals refine their skills for a new or developing analytics role.

5. A customized training plan.

You might find that none of the above approaches quite fills the gap in your knowledge perfectly. You may want to customize a training plan using some of these options along with hiring mentors for a few hours a week and frequently reading publications such as Analytics magazine or McKinsey & Company's offerings on big data and advanced analytics.

As more professionals begin using analytics tools and relying on them to succeed and innovate, higher educators are quickly adapting to meet this need. Don't get left behind in the analytics revolution: Empower yourself to be the best entrepreneur possible by readying yourself for the data-driven future.

Related: Disruptive Technologies Highlight the Importance of New Data Roles in Companies

Asha Saxena

President and CEO of Aculyst Inc

Asha Saxena is Columbia University Professor and founder of Aculyst Inc. a healthcare big data solutions and advanced analytics services firm


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