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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.

Wanted: Real World Analytics Experience

So IT executives are scouring the country to find people with the data analytics skills they need now. Douglas Menefee is CIO at Schumacher Group, a privately held company that provides emergency room management services to hospitals nationwide. He wants to hire database extract, transform and load (ETL) developers, as well as presentation analysts "who know how to tell a story with data."

"Both need to have very strong critical thinking skills and need to be able to draw on asking the hard questions," Menefee says. The ETL developers need "strong math and logic matching skills," he says, while the presentation developers "need to be able to use right and left brain thinking"-in other words, be both logical and creative. "We want them to use creativity to tell a graphical story."

Because projects change very quickly depending on the "fire of the day," Menefee says, Schumacher looks for individuals who also are experienced with agile development and can adapt to change easily.

The hiring cycle takes three to six months, sometimes preventing the company from moving as quickly as it would like on projects, Menefee says. If necessary, consultants fill the gap, such as when the company was building a BI center of excellence and needed architecture and design expertise. Hitachi Consulting "worked with us a couple of years until we were [internally] staffed," Menefee says.

Adding to Menefee's challenge is the company's Lafayette, La., location. It's hard to convince people who aren't already familiar with Lafayette to relocate. He concentrates on hiring locals, as well as people who want to move back to Louisiana. Schumacher Group has also taken advantage of job recruitment, hiring and training services provided through the Louisiana state government's FastStart workforce program.

Like Menafee, Meyers at Biogen Idec wants to hire staff with data warehousing, ETL and reporting experience. That's relatively easy, he says. But he also wants these workers who know how to elicit details from users about the metrics they use to make decisions and the unanswered questions they have that data can help them to find. Identifying them is more challenging. He thinks he can recruit them from other companies, where they've done similar work.

Planning for the Future

Meyers says he can find people to staff current projects. "These skill sets might have been fine for the past several years, but to truly use BI as a competitive advantage you have to focus decision support on predicting the future—not simply reporting the past," he says. Similarly, Menefee says, "Our next generation of skills will be blended heavily on the business side with statistical modeling and quantitative analysis." Menafee says. However, he adds, "these skills probably won't live within IT."


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