ITU to educate the data detectives of the future

In the summer of 2017, ITU will launch Denmark's first Bachelor program in data science, a new academic field that seeks to translate big data into insights and business ideas. The future graduates will combine their sense for numbers and business to develop new ideas and improve products - and companies are lining up to recruit them.

Every day, companies and organizations are collecting vast amounts of data on everything from consumer habits to the weather. According to IBM, no less than 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data are created a daily basis, and the data volumes are constantly growing at an exponential rate.

Data science is a new discipline that is all about doing the detective work of digging new insights out of these huge piles of data - also known as big data. In the US, which is leading within big data and data science, prestigious universities like MIT and Stanford are already educating data scientists, and in 2017, ITU is launching Denmark's first Bachelor programme in data science.

Talent for numbers and business sense
A good data scientist must have a talent for numbers, good business sense and an ability to make complicated analyses comprehensible. This combination of skills requires crossing traditional academic boundaries, so the programme features both programming, statistics, business, communication and ethics on the curriculum, says Head of the Data Science programme, Natalie Schluter.

"Data science is all about extracting information from the data, which would be impractical or even impossible to get with more traditional methods. Handling such large amounts of data requires the wide range of skills that we are collecting in this program, so students will get exactly the skills they need, "she says.

New inventions in old industries
Big data is already causing disruption in a number of industries, says Natalie Schluter.

"Industries across the board are collecting data and are starting to do new things with it. We are seeing innovation in industries that have not seen innovation for years - from agronomics to the pharmaceutical industry," she says.

Natalie Schluter, linjeleder på data science.
Handling big data requires a broad range of skills, says Natalie Schluter, Head of the Data Science programme.
This also applies to the automotive industry, which is likely too see major changes when self-driving cars begin to roll onto the market. Self-driving cars is an invention made possible by big data - without huge amounts of data about people's behaviour in traffic, the cars would not have a reliable basis for deciding whether to turn, stop, or speed up in a particular situation.

In addition to creating a basis for new inventions, big data can also help companies to boost sales.

"For instance, a web shop can learn a lot about its customers by looking closely at where they are clicking on the website and how long they are looking at the products. Instead of spending resources on focus groups and surveys, a company can analyse the behaviour of thousands of customers at once," explains Natalie Schluter.

High time
Danish companies are beginning to realize that big data is an important business tool. The demand for data specialists is increasing – this spring, a report commissioned by the Danish Business Authority showed that Denmark will lack 19,000 IT specialists in 2030 and mentioned big data as one of the main areas of growth.

So it is high time that we start to educate data scientists in Denmark, says Natalie Schluter.

"Many companies know they can do something with all the data they collect, but lack the knowledge to actually do it. If employers cannot find these competencies in Denmark, they will have to look for brain power abroad, which they have already started doing. If we do not educate data scientists here, we are halting innovation in Denmark," she says.


TDC is betting on big data
At TDC Group, big data has long been an integral part of the business, and the company is among the employers who have given input to the big data programme. Jonas Munk heads TDC's team of data scientists, which delivers advanced analyses for various parts of the organization.

"Data science supports all kinds of areas, also on the executive level, such as strategic decisions about what products we launch on the market. It cuts across the organization, so our data scientists have to understand our business, work with data analysis tools, and understand statistics. We are also very focused on privacy - using anonymized data and respecting ethical and judicial guidelines," he says.

TDC's data scientists are involved in the development of new business models as well as in finding areas where the business can be improved.

"We look a lot at the general customer experience. For example, if many customers are in queue for our call centres, or if many errors are reported on our network, we can see how that relates to customer satisfaction. We are in dialogue with many customers every day, so we are using big data to find the overall correlations. This may seem simple, but we are talking about very large amounts of data that have to be put together," says Jonas Munk.

He predicts that the need for data scientists will increase in the future.

”At TDC, we are among the pioneers, but many are realizing that data scientists are in growing demand. We already have a great for need data scientists and we are looking forward to meeting the future graduates,” he says. 

Further information

Natalie Schluter, Assistant Professor, email nael@itu.dk

Vibeke Arildsen, Press Officer, phone 2555 0447, email viar@itu.dk