Saturday, June 25, 2016

Demand swells up for 'IT's hottest job'

NEW DELHI: Fractal Analytics, which recently raised $100 million from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah, plans to step up the hiring of data scientists and technologists. Rival Axtria will also be adding people as companies in the data analytics space see a boom.

"We are investing big in product businesses and building platforms like the one around artificial intelligence in healthcare," said Natwar Mall, CEO, products, at Fractal. The company, which employs 900 analytics professionals in three offices in India, plans to hire another 300.

Gurgaon and US-based Axtria will also add to its 550-strong data analytics team located in the Indian city. It has two development centres in Gurgaon and will be adding 200-250 people in the next two months.

India's data analytics industry is expanding rapidly, hence the need for specialized talent. The Indian business intelligence and analytics software industry's revenue is expected to reach $214 million in 2016, according to a recent forecast by Gartner.

The country's top engineering and management schools are a great source of raw talent, companies say. They have developed systems to screen candidates on traits such as an analytical bent of mind and problem-solving skills, training them further depending on requirements.

"What is unique to India is the availability of raw talent in multiple disciplines required by the industry, which comprises mathematics, statistics, problem solving and communication skills," said Jaswinder Chadha, CEO, Axtria, which has a school that trains data scientists.

Still, the rejection level is high. The acceptance rate, from application to hiring, is about 1.5%, Mall said. The company's Fractal Academy of Analytics puts fresh hires through a 90-day boot camp. "The cost of bad hiring is pretty high in our business," he said. "Our system is designed to not hire wrong people, though we may miss out on some good candidates in the process."

Furthermore, specialized talent is rare for roles such as product management, product engineering and consulting profiles.

"The larger issue is the fact that going to IITs and IIMs is a problem since at the best you will be able to hire people at analyst or senior analyst level but not at the data scientist level," said Bhavish Sood, research director at Gartner.

The bigger companies are focusing on specialised products, which require new skill sets.

"A few years back, data analytics was all about statistics, now it's all about machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer science. It is a hard, deep discipline. Talent has to adapt to it," said Mall.

Fractal acquired two companies last year — Imagna Analytics and Mobius Innovations — to strengthen customer genomics solutions for hyper-personalized marketing.

The talent shortage is acute in the west. "In the US, there is a war over data science talent right from Google to Netflix to startups to companies like Disney and Visa — the old world companies — all vying for the same talent pool," said Mall.

"For highly skilled talent, the only option is to hire from other big data or analytics companies," said Sandeep Saha, director of marketing at BRIDGEi2i Analytics Solutions, which recently raised funding from Edelweiss Private Equity.

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