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The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is taking place, driving us into the Data Age. Just as with steam power, electricity and computing, the impact of this data revolution will be felt across modern society as homes, buildings and workplaces adopt more intelligent, connected devices and systems.

Just as with previous technological leaps, the rate of growth for those embracing the change will be heavily dependent on the availability of a workforce with knowledge and skills related to the technology. Today, industries like smart buildings are being held up by a chronic shortage of skilled personnel that threatens the development of the entire sector.

Wherever we look the skills shortage appears dire. Survey results from the Business Application Research Center’s research into leading Big Data challenges show that access to skills and technical know-how are the most significant impediments to successful project delivery, with over 50% of respondents citing it as a problem. “Know-how” comes from recruitment and training, but even those have proved difficult for companies to achieve, further widening the knowledge gap that is holding back the sector.

CapGemini’s 2017 Digital Transformation survey shows that organizations are finding it challenging to recruit appropriately skilled individuals in several relevant domains, with significant skills gaps existing for several critical areas. The gap between available skills and organizational capabilities is most pronounced for cyber security skills (25% gap), mobile application design (24% gap) and cloud computing (23%) according to the survey.

Tech-giant IBM warns that the data-specific roles will be the next to join the gap. They predict that annual demand for the fast-growing new roles of data scientist, data developers and data engineers will reach nearly 700,000 openings by 2020. The Tencent Research Institute notes similar growth in demand for AI and Machine Learning expertise, reporting that there were only about 300,000 AI experts worldwide in 2017, while millions are needed.

In building operations, the problem is just as concerning. A recent survey conducted by the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and Scottish electrical trade body SELECT found that 40% of professionals who protect and manage buildings admit they are ‘unfamiliar’ with the term “Internet of Things,” while 55% agreed there was a ‘lack of clear advice or knowledge’ on the subject.

It is not just the building operators, the skills gap also affects the commerical real estate firms managing and selling large portfolios of, what they tout as, smart buildings. As many as 36% of CRE firms reported a lack of technical skills for data management, 35% said they lacked data analytics expertise, while 34% felt a shortage in integrated asset management software skills, according to the ECA-CIBSE-SELECT report.

“Whilst facilities staff, property management companies, and operations and maintenance contractors often have some skills relating to building systems protocols and BMS software they will require additional training in new areas including cyber security, mobile systems, app development and data analytics to make the most of Big Data opportunities, or alternatively, data professionals will need to be attracted into the market,” explains our latest report: Towards Data-Driven Buildings: Big Data for Smart Buildings 2018 to 2023.

These extreme skills shortages for many companies across multiple fields are intensifying competition among employers, and therefore, driving up salaries. Data-as-a-Service provider Promptcloud found that average listed salaries for data scientists in the US had risen 6.43% to the year ending March 2018. Advertised data scientist jobs in the US now pay an average of $105,000 and advertised data engineering jobs pay an average of $117,000, representing a strong rising trend that is expected to continue.

A sustainable answer to this problem must come from the education sector, namely universities. While universities are scaling up their capabilities and delivery of IoT, AI and Big Data related courses, it will take five or more years before the supply of suitably skilled professionals begins to approach rising demand. Until then, organizations will be forced to use external consulting or professional services to support implementations. While businesses and systems vendors will turn to partnerships with third-party specialists, or sub-contracting parts of their data management operations to third-party specialists, highlights our report.

“A growing trend towards cloud-based service utilization may also go some way to plugging the gaps, but an over-reliance on 3rd party data professionals and analysts to process and make sense of data outputs can be expensive. Outsourcing too much of the activity also leaves the business far removed from process of data processing / analytics, with limited control over data quality management and data security. This scenario can leave end-users unsure whether the outputs they are receiving are a true reflection of business operations,” the new report states.

On the journey towards data-driven buildings, we will not have the skills we require to drive at full speed. The lack of experience at every level will cause accidents. So, the future development of the smart building industry, and other 4IR sectors will depend on the ability of companies to adapt to this situation with external expertise, internal training and a great deal of patience.