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It Takes Tools AND Talent to Unlock the Power of Data

by Dave Hannon

October 6, 2011

By Dave Hannon


It is an exciting time for data proponents right now. For years they have been preaching the power of data and finally, it appears, a broader set of businesses and individuals are buying into it, investing in technology like SAP to collect and analyze data. But to unlock the power of the data your company is collecting you need more than just the right technology; you need people with that rare combination of technical and business skills to analyze the data and make business recommendations based on it.

And, I know I am preaching to the choir here, but those people are not easy to find.

A report from McKinsey and Co. earlier this year stated that "There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions…It will be necessary to retrain a significant amount of the talent in place."

A more recent study by the Corporate Executive Board called Overcoming the Insight Deficit says that while companies are investing millions into data collection and analysis technology, less than 40% of employees at those companies are adequately trained to use that data in their decision making.

So what skills are required to make the most of that data and where can you find them?

As this article from the Data Warehousing Institute points out, the best business analysts are "skilled in three areas: First, they engage stakeholders and have an eye for business opportunity. Second, they inspire stakeholders' trust with consistently excellent analysis. Third, 'big data' requires skill with data management and software engineering."

People with this combination of skills are likely not in the IT organization, according to the CEB analysis. "Solving these challenges requires anthropological skills and behavioral understanding—skills that are in short supply in IT. As a result of IT's background and skills, 70% of business leaders find IT's information management capabilities to be inadequate."

If your organization is short on these skills, the CEB report provides some suggestions including:

• Develop an analytic training curriculum to "raise all boats" in your company
• Rather than try to find a team of business analysts, find one with the "coaching" skills to spread the knowledge
• Formalize processes to include insight-driven decision making

One company that has been successful in developing a "culture of analytics" across its organization is Celestica. Dr. Tianbing Qian, Senior Director of Information Solutions at Celestica told me in this interview that when Celestica established its Business Analytics Center of Excellence, it mixed both IT and business people into the same organization. They have backgrounds in areas such as operations research, data mining, and Six Sigma and work side-by-side with traditional IT data warehousing people.

"By using this approach, we can perform deep analytics using proprietary mathematical models to identify the insight and add unique value to our customers," he says. "Then, we can operationalize it by using dashboards and alerts in the most efficient way for the business. It's the combination of using hybrid talent and the hybrid project approach that drives analytics success across a broad range of areas and does so at a rapid speed."

As with many challenges, the only truly wrong is no answer. Developing these skills in your organization needs to be a priority. Because if you're not doing anything, as the CEB report points out:

"There is an odds-on chance that, right now, someone in your organization is about to make a poor decision based on data that you have paid enormous amounts to gather and assemble."

Scary, huh?

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