New Data Era Requires New Skills for Analysts, New Attitudes for Managers

by   |   October 9, 2012 11:53 pm   |   0 Comments

Will Hakes of Link Analytics

Will Hakes of Link Analytics

LAS VEGAS – It’s the first inning in the era of big data analytics, and the technologies and methodologies to pull value out of big data are viable and readily available.

But in order to succeed in the game, according to Link Analytics CEO Will Hakes, there are a lot of changes that need to be made in the corporate and academic world to adopt the necessary skills and mindsets to take advantage of big data analytics.

Hakes was the keynote speaker Oct. 9 at SAS’s Analytics 2012 conference, where he challenged analysts to become better communicators and business decision makers to trust data analytics. He called on companies to partner with universities, and challenged those universities to use those partnerships to offer better, more holistic analytics programs that produce better graduates.

“I want you to challenge (businesses) to hire your grad students, and believe me, we’ll rise to that challenge,” Hakes said.

Skills and training were a key focus the conference; SAS had 13 academic partners present at the conference, including the University of Alabama Northwestern and the University of Central Florida. The conference also featured a contest that featured 14 teams of analytics students working on a complex data mining problem.

Hakes hailed universities that are teaching “soft skills” to analytics students; he said being mathematically sound is no longer enough to succeed in the new era of analytics, communications and presentation skills are crucial for success.

Anticipating a Talent Pipeline
Bill Franks, the chief analytics officer at Teradata, said he was excited about a new breed of hybrid degrees that universities were starting to offer that mix business understanding with analytics. When the degrees catch on, those programs will become a main source for analytical talent, he said, and purely technical degrees will instead lead to careers in academia and research.

“The [hybrid degrees] are focusing on what you need to do to be effective in a business today, especially in the large enterprises that SAS and Teradata deal with,” Franks said. “That’s a key differentiating skill set. When you look at the technical skills, they’re important, but I’m not going to hire you on it. You’ve got to have business savvy, and understand the analytics, how it works but why you’re doing it. You’ve got to have creativity.”

Denise McManus, the director of the Institute of Business Analytics at the University of Alabama, is helping build a program for a hybrid degree. Undergraduates studying a major in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can elect to enroll in a master’s in business administration program concurrent with their undergraduate studies. When they finish their bachelor’s, they’re only one year away from an MBA. The university also offers an MBA program with a concentration in business analytics, and McManus’ department recruits business and STEM talent from other departments to try steer students into a business analytics degree.

“What we see as a demand in the marketplace is for graduates to have these critical analytical skills,” McManus said. “We want to attract top talent across the university. We’re creating a better talent pool for [business recruiters.]”

The new type of analyst being created at places like University of Alabama will only thrive in a company where the top executives trust and support analytics projects, and there are still large business leaders dragging their feet. Hakes called for the broad adoption of a chief analytics officer, or CAO, but said other top executives in marketing, IT, and customer relations are hesitant to give up their control of projects that could be positive and profitable contributions to the business.

“Those folks are all jockeying for that space,” Hakes said. “There is a lot of money in it, and it’s a struggle for scarce resources.”

Hakes said that analytics shouldn’t be the death of intuition, but instead support the gut feelings that savvy business managers already have.

Franks, a CAO himself, said that many smaller, newer companies already accept the need for an analytics organizational structure. But many older, larger businesses have a tough time changing years of successful business decisions to adopt newer analytical techniques.

“You need to get people to understand that [analytics] can confirm what you already suspect and make you more confident in that decision, or if it contradicts you, you can understand why and then you have a choice to make,” Franks said. “The analytics is not about replacing people, it’s about helping them to do better. That’s the mindset we need to get people to.”

Email Staff Writer Ian B. Murphy at Follow him on Twitter .

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