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How to value and develop analytical talent

Executives from NBA, Disney, TechWeb on training and retaining analysts

Working for the National Basketball Association (NBA) or Walt Disney World would be a dream come true for many college graduates and seasoned business professionals. And yet, these businesses face the same challenges with finding, training and developing analytic talent as other data-driven organizations.

On a recent panel at the SAS Global Forum Executive Conference, SAS CMO Jim Davis  discussed the importance of recognizing, nuturing and sustaining analytical talent with the following executives:

  • Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins.
  • Walt Disney’s Sr. Director of Management Services and Integration Cameron Davies.
  • TechWeb CMO Scott Vaughan.

Where do you get the talent within your organization to help you deal with modeling efforts, retain that talent and advance careers?

Alex Martins: It’s a challenge. It’s a piece of the sports business that is blossming now. For us, you have to go outside the industry to find the talent. We have done that. We’ve also grown some of the talent through the constant development of the analytics team, give them the opportunity to come to conferences like this [SAS Global Forum and SAS Executive Conference] are important elements. Giving them tools, like investing in SAS to give them tools at their fingertips to grow our analytics program across the board, and constant education to keep them on top of their game can all help.

Scott Vaughn: Stealing analysts is good [laughter]. Seriously, for good recruiting, you have to be willing to invest in that. You have to train them. There’s a lot of people in the pool of jobless college graduates who can be seasoned to learn and nurture. We’re at an awesome time to do that. We need investments of money and time and we need to reorient our thinking. The faster we can get into schools and colleges is a big opportunity to do that.

Martins: You can’t just throw money at it. You have to brainstorm and strategize how to recruit. And, we need to internally motivate, validate and train our cast. It’s similar to bringing thousands of analytics cast members to a conference to help them. Also, we give them a chance to fail, but play with it.

How did you build your team? One person first, or start with a big team?

Martins: We have three people on our team. We started with one, and like anything else, you develop a list of priorities. What do you want to achieve with Analytics? The work grows, you add and evolve, and we’ve recruited from another company who has the talent we need, and we’ve done home growing. Our analytics department grows as we speak – we try to integrate it into every portion of our business.

Cameron Davies: If you can, start with three people: One MBA or finance type who’s heavy into analytics with a tech background in something like economics or engineering –  someone who can talk to business and has good communication skills. Then, two scientists for redundancy. If you only hire one, you either overempower them or they get stolen. Then, no one can help run the models. And analytics is stil subjective, no matter how complex your models are. They all have assuptions involved. So, you want people having checks and balances on those things. Start layering business around that for product management and other business goals.

How do you create career paths after the initial levels in analytics?

Vaughn:  In marketing, once they have the core analytics skills, you can keep them on the core team or integrate them into the culture. Many businesses are literally moving peope into the organizations, instead of keeping them as a centralized data point. It helps keep them interested.

Davies:  It depends on how hard core you’re gonna get. If you’ve got analytical MBAs vs PhD in operational resarch or applied statistics who can integrate it into the business side, PAY them! They are hard to find. You need to create a centralized team that is embedded in the business units and provide a career path: think management career tracks vs technical career tracks. You need a career path for people who don’t need to lead people. Let them know they can be an individual contributor and still progress.

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