IT executives and other workers focused on business intelligence and big data programs are a pretty consistent group when it comes to compensation increases, according to TechTarget's 2014 IT Salary and Careers Survey. The percentages of such respondents who got a bump in overall compensation this year and who expect one next year were almost identical: 62% and 58%, respectively. But the survey results also show that BI and big data salaries vary widely -- and that they aren't increasing as much as you might think they would be.
The average base salary of 101 survey takers who reported that their primary job functions involved BI and big data was $134,536. The median salary level wasn't far from that, coming in at $120,000. But there was a wide spread between the low of $45,000 and the high of $400,000 -- same for total compensation, which ranged from that $45,000 figure up to $600,000. In part, the disparity likely reflects the diversity of the respondents: Forty-three percent identified themselves as senior IT executives and another 16% as IT managers, but the rest included a mix of data analysts, programmers, project managers and other IT staffers.
Playing a role in BI and big data projects also doesn't guarantee people raises, or impressively large ones if they do get salary increases. While nearly two-thirds of the respondents reported compensation gains this year, less than half -- 49% -- said they received outright raises. The median raise was 3%, with a low of 1.3%, a high of 25% and an overall average of 5.8%. Fewer people -- 41% of the respondents -- said they expected to get raises in 2015.
The relatively flat pay tracks closely with the experience of Matt Mueller, president of CBIG Recruiting & Staffing, a recruiting company in Rosemont, Ill., that focuses on the BI and data warehousing fields. For example, Mueller said he sees a lot of businesses sitting on their hands when it comes to investing in big data analytics tools and teams while they try to figure out how using big data can provide value to their operations.
"You hear a lot of buzz about big data management, [and] data science, but a lot of that is still on the west coast," Mueller said, referring to large Web companies and Silicon Valley startups. "The rest of the country is still doing a lot of proof-of-concept stuff. I don't know how many have jumped into the pool."
Not a get-rich-quick scenario
The labor market isn't barren, he added, noting that there are positions available for people with BI and big data skills. The TechTarget survey, conducted online between June and August, backs that up: Forty-eight percent of respondents said their companies are looking to make new hires. But except for top-notch data scientists, even experienced workers are unlikely to find new employers willing to give them anything approaching a 20% pay increase, Mueller said.
That may account for why many people involved in big data and BI programs are staying put, at least for now. Only 18% of the survey respondents said they were actively seeking a new job, while another 6% were starting to look around. Conversely, just 20% said they were satisfied with their current positions and had no interest in going elsewhere. The largest group -- 50% -- said they would be open to new opportunities but weren't actively looking to make a move.
Another possible reason why BI and big data salaries are somewhat stagnant is a lingering shortage of workers with analytics skills. Some businesses with open jobs are having a hard time finding people with the desired qualifications and are unwilling to shell out higher pay to lesser candidates.
Sometimes, though, employers might build unrealistically high expectations into BI and big data job postings -- for example, by specifying that data analysts have a mix of technical, quantitative analysis and communication skills, including previous experience with technologies such as Hadoop, NoSQL databases, the R programming language and other analytics tools.
Go soft on big data skills
Asif Hassan, co-founder of Boston-based analytics consulting services provider Quantiphi LLC, said he recently filled a data scientist position after a relatively short search, hiring a new graduate from a local university. Hassan said he focuses less on job candidates' resumes and more on their general mind-set, looking for softer traits like curiosity and problem-solving skills. They tend to be much more predictive of success in analytics positions than a laundry list of technical expertise, he said: "The skills I'm looking for go one level deeper than the labels. When you look at that level, your pool becomes a lot bigger."
Sameer Chopra, vice president of advanced analytics at Chicago-based travel reservations website operator Orbitz Worldwide Inc., also cautioned against asking too much of individual data scientists and analysts. Chopra said companies should stop seeking "unicorns" and instead team up people with a mix of skills -- statistical modeling, machine learning and more -- to support one another. "Putting them together is very powerful," he said.
In the survey, 39% of the BI and big data respondents said the IT budgets in their organizations are larger this year than in 2013, with an average increase of 10.6%. By comparison, 16% said their IT budgets have decreased, while 32% said theirs are the same size as a year ago.
Meanwhile, 67% said they report to IT managers, CIOs or CTOs. Even so, the top measure of success they cited, by a wide margin, was helping to achieve a business goal or outcome. Sixty-four percent chose that answer; the next-closest response was completing projects on time, at 43%.
But Ursula Cottone, chief data officer at Cleveland-based KeyCorp, a financial services company that operates as KeyBank, said organizations that leave BI and analytics within the IT realm need to be careful not to fall back on using typical IT metrics to judge the success of projects. "There's a risk of gravitating back to where it was before, because it's an easy gravitational pull," Cottone said. "People think of data as technology, but implementing a tool is not success."
Hear more about current trends in big data salaries
See how pay in different areas of IT stacked up against each other in 2013
Read about building internal big data skills vs. relying on consultants