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January 13, 2016

Booz Allen Targets Data Skills Gap

George Leopold

Seeking to address the growing shortage of data scientists as demand for those skills explodes, leading U.S. security specialist Booz Allen Hamilton released a data science platform aimed at “democratizing data” via a simplified analytics system.

The military and intelligence contractor (NYSE: BAH) based in McLean, Va., unveiled its “Sailfish” data science platform this week designed to “lower the barrier to entry for data science.” The platform consists of an “Exchange,” or data library, an analytics tool called “Explore” and a support platform.

Booz Allen is promoting Sailfish as a way of smashing silos among analytics, management or business users while eliminating the need for formal data science training. That approach is similar to other efforts geared at addressing the shortage of trained data scientists by making data analytics tools more accessible to managers and other business users.

Meanwhile, other approaches seek to address the data scientist shortage by leveraging emerging technologies like machine learning. In one example, MIT researchers reported last year on an effort to automate analytics via machine learning algorithms.

Vendors like Booz Allen are taking more conventional routes to plugging the data science skills gap by making analytics tools easier to use while providing technical support when users encounter problems. The government contractor that once employed the whistleblower Edward Snowden presumably has vast experience in data analytics and is now seeking to leverage those capabilities in commercial markets as a way to fill the data science gap.

Indeed, the company cited its “legacy knowledge of data science stemming from work in the highest levels of the federal government and military….”

“In 2016, we expect to see increased pressure from organizations to draw valuable, executable insights from their data, and yet, the size of the data science workforce severely lags behind its market demand,” Josh Sullivan, a Booz Allen Hamilton senior vice president and leader of the firm’s data science team noted in a statement unveiling the Sailfish platform.

Along with building up data science competency, the company said its suite of Sailfish applications and services aim to help manage corporate data and encourage greater use of analytics across different departments. It also seeks to help users move beyond traditional analytics toward a more sophisticated approach that relies on machine learning, natural language processing, advanced data querying and data curation.

The Explore tool, for example, seeks to make data science and advanced analytics more accessible to non-specialists. It includes a natural language interface intended to eliminate the need for special query languages. The company said Explorer also includes a visual query builder that replaces coding with a drag-and-drop capability to formulate complex queries.

A data management feature allows users to schedule, save and share workflows. The tool sits on top of exiting data storage platforms like Hive and the Hadoop Distributed File System, Booz Allen said.

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