By: Paul R. DeMuro

Increasingly around the country and in South Florida, employers and other stakeholders are looking to hire data analytics professionals who can critically analyze data to help them grow and manage their businesses and to be more effective. Although there are quite a number of computer science and engineering programs, and even some informatics programs in South Florida, the skills that many employers are looking for increasingly are in the areas of data science and data analytics.

When I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan a few months ago on the campus of tiny Calvin College (less than 4,000 students), I noted the school had offerings in both areas. When I met with the President of Claremont McKenna College (CMC) in Southern California (less than 1,400 students) a few weeks later, I was advised that CMC was developing an interdisciplinary computer science program, focusing on data analytics. CMC is seeking to equip students in the liberal arts with the ability to critically analyze data in their chosen fields.

In the last year and a half, I conducted a significant amount of empirical research around the country, interviewing healthcare providers and representatives of healthcare companies and other stakeholders about their need for data analytics professionals. As a result, I now realize more and more that not only are such professionals in demand, but students and colleges often do not focus sufficiently on such areas. Often students fear that they may need to be a programmer to critically analyze data. Although we do need many more programmers and software engineers, we also need students who can critically analyze data. Thus, a background in programming is helpful, along with being facile in mathematics, statistics, databases, and project management. Students who have familiarity with programming languages such as Java and/or Python, statistical packages such as SAS and/or R, and can query databases, e.g., with OracleMySQL and/or Microsoft SQL Server, are much in demand.

I am asked often what such professionals might do with such data analytics training. In the pharmacy space, a pharmacist who can critically analyze data might query an existing database to find all the patients with a pharmacy spend of $100,000 or more. She then might stratify such patients by disease state and consider the various interventions for each of them and the effectiveness of such interventions. Armed with this information, she might data mine the information about other patients in the data set to try to predict what patients might be susceptible to various diseases (predictive analytics) and to help determine what interventions today might minimize these patients developing those diseases in the future (a form of population health management).

The real value of pharmacists is in their ability to critically analyze patient data, not in dispensing medications, as more machines will be able to manufacture certain pharmaceuticals on the spot and more technicians will dispense them under the supervision of a pharmacist.

Will we have sufficient programs in South Florida to train professional students in data science and data analytics? Will we have sufficient undergraduate programs in this area? If we do not, we likely will find it quite difficult to attract companies to South Florida and to grow the ones we have.