Four tips for finding - and keeping - the analytic talent you need
When you compare two big box stores, what gives one the edge over the other? It's not labor costs. Those are comparable. It isn't, for the most part, the cost of goods. Both have wrung all of the bloat from their supply chains. Innovation and customer service? Perhaps. But what drives the innovation and customer service? Analytics. More than any other business process today, analytics is the differentiator that separates successful businesses in all industries from their less successful counterparts.
But succeeding with analytics involves skill sets that companies haven't traditionally needed to hire for or nurture. It's unknown territory. In the past, a company might have sought certain types of talent from a leading MBA program or a top engineering school. But one-stop shopping doesn't (yet) exist in the analytics world. One of our goals in founding the International Institute of Analytics is to help companies understand how to find and nurture analytic talent. Here are four tips for finding analytic talent and four steps to keeping it.
FINDING ANALYTICAL TALENT
Analysts don't all hail from one discipline: For HR people who like neat job descriptions that make it easy to scan resumes automatically, hiring for analytical talent is not easy. While technical skills are critical (thus the need to look at computer programmers and statisticians), knowledge of the business and communication skills are equally important.
The skill set involves both sides of the brain: You need people who can build models and take a business problem, translate it, use the models and software to solve that business problem and then translate it (via business intelligence solutions) to the business users. Purely technical individuals rarely understand the business needs. Those with a business background need technical skills. A blend of technical skills and communication skills with an understanding of the big picture is critical.
You can't depend on higher education to hire your way to success: Not yet anyway. While analytics is being taught in college and graduate programs, it's rare to find the right talent fresh from a degree program. You need inquisitive, experienced people who have spent some time in business units.
Don't try this with academics: The academics who study and teach analytics are critical to advancing the discipline, but you will need individuals with a healthy understanding of ROI and the ability to select projects that will help the organization achieve a strong return on its investment. That person might come from the academic world, but don't confuse a robust understanding of theory with the practical needs of your business.
KEEPING ANALYTIC TALENT
Free software for students
To give students hands-on experience in using advanced data analysis, SAS OnDemand for Academics is available at no cost to higher-education students worldwide. Via a SAS-hosted server, students can use the software wherever they have Internet access, making it easy for them to build and test models and get a true understanding of the power of data mining and analytics.
"When interviewers see SAS and data mining, it's a very big plus on the resumé," said Alan Olinsky, Professor of Applied Math at Bryant University. "There is so much data out there; we just don't have enough people to analyze it. Statistics is becoming very popular, and SAS is an integral part of that."
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Educating tomorrow's leaders
To fight the shortage of analytic talent, more than 200 universities around the globe are using SAS to teach students how to apply analytic skills and technology to solve tomorrow's problems. Here are just a few:
Don't hide or pigeonhole your analytic talent: They will get bored and leave. Rotating these folks into different business challenges is critical. It's also important to keep them trained and up to date, which means letting them attend that conference – even if you fear they might use it to network.
Don't keep the talent hidden from each other: An analytical center of excellence is critical to keeping ideas circulating among your top talent. Consider it less as a think tank that you pour money into than a clearinghouse where talent can learn from one another. You do need someone to run the center and track how different departments are doing with analytics. This can help your organization become more efficient and effective in using both talent and tools.
Understand what motivates talent to stay: Salary is important, but since analytical talent often carries a variety of titles and responsibilities, salary data is a bit difficult to define. That will eventually change, but in the interim, to attract and retain talent, focus on providing challenges and building a culture that respects and values the analysts' work.
Make sure efforts are supported by the C-suite: Attracting, hiring and retaining analytical talent needs the support of the senior leadership. They need to understand the value of analytics and understand that doesn’t just happen organically. It involves commitment and a strategy. The brightest analytical talent won’t stay long at a company whose executives don’t value their contributions.
Follow these steps to finding – and keeping – analytic talent, and you'll be on your way to becoming an analytic organization – and differentiating your store from that other box store down the street.
Bio: Jack Phillips, CEO, International Institute for Analytics (IIA)
International Institute for Analytics
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