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CIOs overcome shortage of business analytics talent

Bob Violino | March 28, 2012
Business intelligence, analytics and big data are all the rage. But those enterprise endeavors require staffers with solid business knowledge, statistical expertise and presentation skills--skills many IT pros don't have. Here's what CIOs are doing to get them.

Just as historical reports alone aren't sufficient for making corporate decisions—executives want business intelligence to identify current and future trends—IT staffers need to know more about BI than how to run a data warehouse or build a dashboard. That puts CIOs in a bind, according to industry experts, who have raised alarms about a data analytics skills deficit.

For example, a report released last spring by the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2018, the United States could lack 140,000 to 190,000 workers with deep analytical skills and another 1.5 million managers and analysts who know how to use analysis of large data sets to make effective decisions.

"We see our BI leader as being the catalyst to drive our organization away from pure historical reporting to true inferential analysis," says Greg Meyers, vice president of global IT at Biogen Idec, a $5 billion biotech company. "This is both a technical and change management challenge."

Yet despite continued high U.S. unemployment rates, there's a BI talent shortage says Boris Evelson, analyst at Forrester Research. "Every single client I talk to tells me they are struggling with finding and retaining BI talent."

To fill the gap, CIOs are competing for workers with strong math skills, proficiency working with massive databases and with emerging database technology as well as with expertise in search, data integration, and other areas such as business knowledge, Evelson says. In fact, he says, business knowledge, such as understanding processes, customers and products, "is at least equally as important as the tech skills."

IT leaders are thinking about how to get the needed analytics talent now as well as developing the pipeline for technologists with the right skills for the future.

Business Analytics Education Gap

Foote Partners, a research and advisory firm that tracks IT skills demand and pay levels, pins the gloomy outlook for BI talent on a low supply of young workers in roles such as architects, modelers, integrators, analysts and developers. The finding is preliminary, says David Foote, the company's co-founder, CEO and chief research officer, but he suggests that one problem is that many colleges and universities haven't yet risen to the challenge of teaching the skills that are potentially needed for analytics jobs.

He cites the need for government and industry partnerships with academia, such as the U.S. Cybersecurity Challenge, that use online competitions and incentives to attract students to possible careers in information security. "The same sort of thing needs to happen for analytics/statistics/BI," Foote says. "Fill the pipeline with students eager to enter the field and focus on careers."

Unfortunately, academic credentials, like a class or even a related degree, go only so far. Qualified workers require several years of experience to understand how to deal with "real world" BI challenges. "One can learn the technical skills needed for BI in a six-month class; that's not a big deal," Evelson says. "The big deal is accumulating knowledge of best practices and lessons learned from successful and failed implementations."


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