This new field of expertise isn’t just important for career seekers, though. As globalization accelerates and industries transform, applying analytics to Big Data will be a key factor in determining which countries pull ahead economically and which ones fall behind. That’s why it’s imperative for countries to prepare a new generation of technology and business whizzes who know how to mine data for world-changing insights.

I’m currently serving as a co-chairman of TechAmerica’s Big Data Commission, working with industry peers to help identify new ways government can take advantage of the Big Data opportunity. The commission today issued recommendations. Among them are several aimed at creating a talent pool of people with the training and technology tools to handle the challenges that lie ahead. They include:  

- Government agencies should expand their knowledge base by creating a formal analytics career track for managers, and should establish leadership academies to provide Big Data-related training and certification. They should also create internship programs that encourage students with analytics skills to enter government service.

- Government leaders should invest in research and development to produce next-generation tools for mining insights from data. 

- Universities should create new degree programs aimed at educating the next generation of data scientists. 

Progressive universities have already begun establishing new degree programs in analytics. IBM is helping more than 200 universities worldwide do so by providing the latest software tools, curricula materials and case studies, as well as research expertise. Northwestern University, for instance, is offering two new master’s degree programs — one for traditional graduate students and the other for adult professionals who are acquiring new skills. My alma mater, Union College, now offers a Taming Big Data course to help students explore analytics. 

Big Data analytics makes it easier for leaders of all types to understand the world around them better than ever before, predict what’s likely to happen in the future and use that knowledge to make better decisions. 

This is an absolute necessity. Faced with rapid population growth, the threat of climate change and limits on natural resources, the world must be made to work better — and fast. Improvements in analytics will be crucial to solving big problems, and will also help leaders uncover new opportunities for advancing business and society. 

Business and academic leaders who participated in TechAmerica’s Big Data Commission came to understand how serious government leaders are about data. Already numerous federal agencies are using new technologies to understand data in order to detect and reduce fraud, boost health care, respond to natural disasters and improve public safety. 

There’s a lot more that can be done with the right focus and skilled resources. Just as students of my generation helped launch the PC revolution and put computing power at people’s fingertips, this generation has the opportunity to put intelligence at everyone’s fingertips. 

That’s how analytics and Big Data can change the world — making life better for billions of people. But it won’t happen unless governments, businesses, universities and students make smart choices and take action. It’s on all of us to help analytics fulfill its potential. 

Mills is senior vice president and group executive of IBM Software & Systems. He serves as co-chair of the TechAmerica Foundation’s Big Data Commission examining how technology applied to data can foster U.S. innovation and competitiveness.