Island of Misfit Toys: Building an Analytics Team from Within

by   |   June 26, 2014 5:30 am   |   0 Comments

For organizations just starting down the path of business intelligence, figuring out the right mix of people to take the company from reports-driven, spreadsheet-focused decision-making to one that embraces analytics can be particularly challenging.

For Brotherhood Mutual Insurance in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this journey began in 2007, when the company realized it was time to replace its Excel spreadsheets with an analytics package from Information Builders that would allow it to gain a deeper understanding of its customers and its business.

It took two years, but by 2009 the company had put Rob Fosnaugh in charge of selecting the team members who would ultimately be responsible for this transition. Because of his consulting background and deep understanding of analytics, Fosnaugh knew that you just can’t take a stack of resumes and turn them into a high-functioning group of people who would understand Brotherhood’s business well enough to do more than take orders and put out reports.

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“To me, a BI developer should have visibility and input into every business process to be flexible and innovative,” Fosnaugh, the manager of BI at Brotherhood Mutual, said in an interview at the Information Builder’s Summit 2014 in June. “I tell my team all the time, ‘When a request comes in, that is usually not the answer [they are looking for]. What they are asking for is what they think they need. But we, because of who we are and the experience we have … we have the tools and resources to advise them to create the tool they need.’”

To find the people for his team, Fosnaugh likes to walk around his company’s offices and take the time to identify those individuals who would make great analysts. These folks may not have any formal BI training, but what they lack in technical knowledge, they more than make up for in organizational and cultural knowledge. In short, they know the business.

Fosnaugh likes to call these individuals “misfits” because, like Hermey, the elf in the children’s classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, they are often the people who struggle to fit into the roles they’ve been assigned. It’s not that they are bad employees – far from it. But stuck inside a business process role, these individuals chafe and often give their managers fits because they want more out of their careers and life.

“Look for the ones that are not cookie-cutter,” said Fosnaugh. “Because the ones who are not cookie-cutter are trouble employees a lot of times for managers. So a lot of times it’s a negative on both ends. The person is frustrated in their job and the manager doesn’t know what to do.”

Fosnaugh said these employees are usually looking to do more. They are creative, intuitive, questioning, adaptive, and independent. They think for themselves and they often ask why.

Specifically, when building a data team, Fosnaugh looks for individuals with the following attributes:

Independent. They don’t always expect to be spoon-fed the work that needs to be done. They build on past experience, take ideas and run with them. They are very self-sufficient.

Questioning. They are not afraid to ask the “dumb questions” that often lead to greater insight and changes to processes that have become ingrained in the corporate culture.

Innovative. They are always looking for better ways to see the world. They use tools and resources to extend beyond what is merely expected.

Adaptive. They are flexible and embrace new technologies and ways of thinking in order to solve complex problems in novel ways.

Intuitive. They know the end result and how to get there before the discussion begins. This is where deep organizational knowledge comes in particularly handy.

Mentoring. They enjoy working with managers to develop their strengths and work through their weaknesses in a collaborative fashion.

“These are skills that I value very much when I bring people on my team,” he said. “It’s hard to tell from a resume and a couple of interviews. It’s a cultural thing. If we keep our eyes open as the directors of BI, we should be able to identify the soon-to-become-possible BI candidates to move into our area.”

Now a freelance writer, in a former, not-too-distant life, Allen Bernard was the managing editor of CIOUpdate.com and numerous other technology websites. Since 2000, Allen has written, assigned and edited thousands of articles that focus on intersection of technology and business. As well as content marketing and PR, he now writes for Data Informed.com, Ziff Davis B2B, CIO.com, the Economist Intelligence Unit and other high-quality publications. Originally from the Boston area, Allen now calls Columbus, Ohio, home. He can be reached at 614-937-2316 or abernie182@gmail.com. Please follow him on Twitter at @allen_bernard1, on Google+ or on Linked In.


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