Business analytics skills shortage provokes companies to cast net wide

Organisations face lack of business analytics skills. Smart companies cast the net wide for the broadest pools of talent, help analysts learn from each other and work to ensure they realize potential.

Analytics and business intelligence (BI) have become the highest-ranking technology priority for chief information offers worldwide, according to Gartner’s 2012 CIO Agenda Report.

With so many organizations looking to expand their capability in this area, there are growing fears that companies will have to struggle to find and develop the right staff to meet the demand for BI and business analytics skills.

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Andy Bristow, City of London business director at London-based recruitment firm Hays, said filling permanent roles is becoming difficult in the BI market, with companies competing against each other for top candidates.

“Skilled BI professionals looking for permanent work would have two or three solid opportunities on the go.”

Much of the need for BI and analytics technology expertise can be filled by contractors, Bristow said. But, he added, that typically isn’t the case when companies are looking to hire BI specialists who would have business-facing roles on an ongoing basis.

“The technical stuff is still going to be important, as is the ability to respond to business needs, but firms also want people who can push out to the business. The expectation of more senior BI professionals filling permanent roles is that they will be taking projects to the board rather than the other way around.”

While the overall supply of experienced BI professionals is not as high as many companies would like, it is just about equal to demand, Bristow said. However, if Gartner’s predictions about the increasing importance of analytics and BI to CIOs are fulfilled, that may not be the case for too long.

The problem has been made worse by businesses becoming reluctant to promote staff through the ranks to the most senior BI positions, according to Bristow. He said recruiters know the pool of likely candidates for a job very well, with few new entrants having achieved the right level of experience.

Gartner’s CIO Agenda findings suggest this shortfall is particularly the case because businesses are seeking to focus analytics on business functions such as supply chain for process management and improvement, mobility for field sales and operations, and social media for customer engagement and acquisition.

Deep survey of analytics skills in house

While companies may be loath to fill senior positions from within, one potential answer to the broader business analytics skills gap is to perform a deep survey of your corporate skills, incorporating both line-of-business and technology staff, said Stacy Blanchard, US-based global leader of organisational effectiveness and human capital analytics services for consulting firm Accenture. “Businesses tend to have more talent than they think and a lot of it is untapped,” Blanchard said.

Her advice is to conduct a search of the HR database for people with the right academic backgrounds and key points on their CVs. In addition, she said peer reviews and ratings should become part of the exercise to produce a rounded picture of possible internal candidates for BI and analytics positions.

Assuming businesses can find and train these people, the next challenge is developing them.

One approach is to hot house the best analytics talent by identifying and pooling them into the same space. Professionals with the right mix of skills like to learn from each other and have a sense of community, Blanchard said.

Keeping the analytically talented

That also forms part of the solution to the next problem: retaining talent. “These people like being close to people who are like them. They can understand the people that they’re working with,” she said.

For example, younger professionals coming into the workplace often want to know that they are contributing to the business and the wider world, Blanchard said. “For the new generation, it is all about what they are doing to make a difference in this company and is that having an impact on the community or society. If they don’t see that direct link, then they stay with you for a period, to get the name on the CV, then move on.”

Organisations risk facing a shortage of the right mix of analytical and business skills as they strive to boost their BI programmes. If efforts to hire skilled workers from outside aren’t fruitful, smart companies can cast the net wide to capture the broadest pools of talent internally, help these individuals learn from each other and work to ensure that they see their value within the business.

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