The Data Lab interview MBN CEO, Michael Young

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The Data Lab is a new innovation centre focused on helping Scottish industry to capitalise on a growing market opportunity in Data Science in Scotland. Its core mission is to generate significant economic, social and scientific value from big data.

They decided to complete a series of interviews with members of the Data Science community in Scotland and I am glad to share an interesting interview with Michael Young, CEO of MBN Solutions.

They asked Michael to share some thoughts on the challenge for talent in the data space. We hope you find his insights valuable..

Hi Michael, a lot has been written on the global shortage of talent in data and you are operating in this space.  Sounds like a fantastic opportunity, how is your business developing?

You’re quite right it is a fantastic opportunity and we have worked hard to position MBN as the ‘go to’ people solutions business for candidates in this important sector.  We have invested greatly in acquiring the skills, knowledge and reputation as experts in the fields of data science, insight and analytics and in respect of related big data skill sets.  This has helped us to grow dramatically over the course of the last few years and we are now one of Europe’s leading recruiters in this space.

How would you summarise the market?

Vibrant, exciting, agile and dramatic!  In essence, this is like the early days of Corporate IT or a safer variant of the era.  The market is growing rapidly as businesses wake up to the need to harness what they have, acquire what they don’t and to galvanise outcomes achieved as a result of both to secure genuine competitive edge.

From your view across the market in Scotland, England and Europe, what are the emerging trends you are discovering both in terms of recruitment and challenges for businesses?

Perhaps the most obvious to us based on feedback from clients and from conversations with practitioners themselves, is the overwhelming need to develop a strong ‘bridge’ between the business and the practitioner.  This demands communications skills often bereft of many practitioners whilst also requiring more sensitivity and awareness of what the business needs by way of answers to otherwise unanswered questions and this all needs to be wrapped in a strategic plan to exploit data for genuine and sustainable commercial gain.

We often talk about the need to develop the talent pipeline from school to universities and professional development.  Have you come across any innovative approaches to scaling either within or out with the pipeline?

Talent needs to be harnessed and developed in a fashion similar to that we have experienced from some of our colleagues in places such as Poland.  Starting early is important but ensuring that the development of the skills remains ‘real world’ is what makes the difference here.  Too much theory and lack of application may lead to the very best skills being unexploitable since the practitioner will struggle to set context and place relevance around what they come up with.  Add into the mix the need for exceptional and more finessed communications skills (per my answer above) and you’ll see that a proper, integrated plan for talent must be developed if we are to stay at the forefront of this important sector.

Data Scientist or Data Science team?

Neither, reimagine each person in a project team as a Swiss army knife instead… one that includes the tools of data wrangling, complex problem solving, communications, evangelist, mentor, advisor, programmer and statistician.  Not a team of people to achieve this but capable, talented practitioners exemplifying all of these traits in a blended style.

From your experience, what should be the top area of focus that would have the greatest impact to address the skills challenge?

For practitioners, develop deeper, more capable communications skills and develop more than a thin veneer of domain expertise in the sector in which they chose to operate.  For business, hire crazy people.  Hire people whose talent, skills and abilities frankly scare you!  Find a way to meet them in the middle and nurture them.  Bring them into the fold by posing questions of them that are posed of you by the board and ask them to help you to co-develop solutions.

You’ve started building communities in Scotland & London, what have you learned?

The London market has a more international, perhaps even global feel to it and that it presents a great place for such practitioners to come to hone their talent and skills in businesses that represent exceptional calling cards for their future.  Whilst Scotland has access to some of this also, it is incumbent on ventures such as The Data Lab to make Scotland an ideal destination for slightly different reasons.  Perhaps for the access to the leading edge thinking, skills development (we see parallels here with initiatives such as the ‘Creative Skillset’ venture) and this will allow Scotland to more effectively differentiate the London proposition for practitioners.

There’s great stories of impact from analytics in Scotland across industry, public sector and academia; however, we are perhaps not the best at promoting this.  What do you think we could do better?

Communications, events, thought leadership, programmes to engage businesses with a need and practitioners with the core skills.  Become evangelists, build the Lab and the Data scientists will come… well at least if they can see the compelling proposition per my comments above.

What’s next for MBN?

Watch this space for our MBN Consilium venture (launching later this year) as we move forward into the provision of people, skills, tools and methods into this exciting market place in our own consulting proposition.

If you would like to know more about The Data Lab, you can visit their website here.