Britain's biggest businesses are heading for a major skills gap. A new report, backed by the country's leading experts, is predicting there will be a 243% increase in demand for big data specialists by 2017– and over half (57%) of business leaders say they already have challenges hiring people with these skills.

The era of big data represents a major opportunity for the UK in the new information economy, where analytics can be used to give organisations the power to know much more about their business and customers. Big data could deliver revenue of more than £200 billion to the UK economy up to 2017.

Big data is all around – it's not just data businesses generate themselves but includes, for example, social network sites like Facebook and Twitter. Despite the technology to harness value from data being widely available, the UK is not producing enough graduates with the ability to analyse it.

To tackle this problem, it's been recognised by the UK government that it needs to work together with businesses and academia. In an attempt to bridge the gap, business analytics firm SAS is already partnering with universities to develop courses to produce graduates with the right mix of skills. And many believe, like IT, data-related subjects could soon be on the school curriculum in the near future.

These skills are needed by all sorts of businesses – at the inaugural SAS Careers Fair at Brunel University 10 businesses alone had more than 100 vacancies for data analysts, with starting salaries for graduates up to 25 per cent more than the current average. The Fair also attracted over 250 students from 15 different universities.

Speaking at the SAS Careers Fair, Dr Liam Fox MP said: "It's quite clear that this incredible resource that is big data is such that if we can unlock its potential to lead to efficiency and, more importantly, innovation in business, then clearly that is going to create wealth. Data handling skills are important for all of us and increasingly so. When I think back to when I was at university, there were none of these analytical tools that are available today."

Professor Andrew George, Vice-Principal, Education & International at Brunel University, said: "We think you will find courses on data analysis being included in social sciences, and included in history courses because we are going to be using that sort of data. Even an historian now has more and more big data to deal with as they look at genomic sequences from different ages and try to follow lineages – and they need to be able to understand how to handle big data as well."

The research by SAS and e-skills is the largest ever study of its kind in the UK, where information was collected from more than 1,000 organisations.

Video courtesy of Independent Media News.