by Rich Hein

IT Departments Battle for Data Analytics Talent

Dec 12, 20126 mins
CareersCIOIT Jobs

Finding personnel to fill analytics positions is only going to get harder as more companies begin to use big data to gain a competitive edge.

Few areas of the IT job market have seen the growth and disparity in supply and demand that the data analytics field has experienced. As big data continues to get bigger and the analytics field continues to mature, it’s becoming a core part of business and the decision-making process. Competition for top analytic talent is going to be fierce as more companies enter the hiring fray.

In a report on big data, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2018, the U.S. will be facing a massive shortage of analytics personnel.

“There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.” – McKinsey Global Institute Report

The McKinsey report also predicts that companies that use analytics to its full potential could increase operating margins by up to 60 percent. Enterprises are heeding the call, creating competition for the top talent.

Reinforcing just how competitive the market is, a Dice report from earlier this year lists the present IT unemployment rate somewhere around 3.6 percent.

“Today’s CIOs need some ‘data is data’ thinkers who are not intimidated by how ‘big’ the data is or whether it encompasses SKUs by store, clicks by offer, or price changes by home listings,” says Scott Bailey, executive vice president of strategy and analytics at Target Data. This type of role is becoming so crucial that companies that struggle to find these people could face product launch setbacks and any number of project delays as a result.

Related Story: 5 Business Analytics Tech Trends and How to Exploit Them

Business Analytics Is a Driving Trend

Some of the major factors driving this trend are explosive growth in big data as companies rush to find useful, actionable data among the ever-growing amounts of data being collected. According to a recent Accenture poll of 258 North American business leaders, 72 percent plan to increase spending on business analytics this year. “The demand is extremely high and the supply is very low– especially at the more senior levels (i.e., more ‘mission critical’ analytics). That means there is not a lot of competition for jobs,” Bailey says.

Furthermore, experts warn that schools and universities haven’t caught up to this trend and aren’t yet teaching the skills necessary to fill these analytics jobs. The Accenture poll also notes that many developing nations are beating the U.S. when it comes to graduates with degrees in these quantitative fields.

Overcoming Shortage of Skilled IT Workers

There are no shortcuts here. Your company should be formulating its plans for finding the right mix of analytical skills combined with business knowledge and experience in its particular field. To attract the talent you need, Anil Kaul, CEO of AbsolutData, an analytics and research firm, offers these tips to get started.

Know What You Need: “To some it means data visualization and reporting, to others it means data mining and predictive analytics. Analytics professionals have spikes in different areas–some are technically stronger while others are stronger in interpreting numbers to craft the answer to the business questions, while others still are stronger in utilizing analytical technologies for answering the analytical questions,” Kaul says.

“It is critical to know the area of strength for the talent that you are looking for,” he says. “Hence it is critical to know the specific analytical skills you are hiring for”

Create Career Paths: “Organizations that can show a clear path that lead to high-profile positions within the organization are more likely to attract analytical talent, Kaul says.”

As analytics continues growing so will the different opportunities within organizations. Revisit these paths to see where updates need to be made.

Illustrate The Business Impact: “In these days of analytical talent shortage, it is critical to show how the job links with the business impact that analytics can create,” Kaul says. “Many analytical professionals have been put in the back room for too long and now want to get to the forefront of creating business impact.”

Convey The Excitement: “Analytics is going through an exciting time, so it is critical to show that the organization, particularly the senior management, is excited about the impact analytics can create in the organization,” Kaul says. “Excitement is contagious and a very good way to attract superior talent.”

Related Story: How Big Data Brings BI, Predictive Analytics Together

What to Look for in Analytics Pro

As the market gets more competitive, companies that know the exact traits they are looking for will be in a much better position to hire the right people. Target Data’s Bailey offers these items as things to look for when hiring people to fill analyst positions.

Top Skills

  • Data–Experience with how data is organized, accessed, cleaned and integrated.
  • Basic Statistics– Crosstabs, significance testing and/or general linear modeling.
  • Creative Problem Solving–Someone who is good at puzzles, visualization and strategy games.


  • Social Sciences–Candidates should have a good blend of data, experimental design and theory
  • Market Research–Approaches to sampling, testing, segmentation and reporting experience is a plus.
  • Advanced Statistics–Nonparametric, neural networks and/or econometric modeling.

Experts also point out that the answer to your analytical problems may require the skills of more than one person. The amount of knowledge needed for analytic positions is growing fast. Different areas of your organization may require analytics people, but the business side may require people with different areas of expertise. This is just another point that demonstrates the complexity of these roles.

“Today’s analysts are more like yesterday’s creative, as opposed to IT, professionals. CIOs need to recognize the ‘design shop’ nature of this role and hire individuals into an environment where they have the opportunity to own a puzzle and the time to produce a solution,” Bailey says.

Related Story: Big Data Analytics Today Lets Businesses Play Moneyball

Finding Analytics Talent

Where to find the talent necessary to fill your company’s analytic roles is a harder question to answer. Bailey has two suggestions: one is to target companies with data-rich environments that are leaders in their category. “If a company has an abundance of revenue-relevant data and is excelling in their category (e.g., Amazon, Harrah’s, Capital One), they are flush with excellent analytic talent,” says Bailey.

His other suggestion is to use consulting services until you are able to get your analytics personnel in house. As demand and competition in this market rises, you can be sure that more advanced analytics will be sourced externally.

Hiring and retaining the best analytics talent will require different strategies for different companies. The company that does it right, however, will have an edge over its competition.

Rich Hein is a senior writer for He covers IT careers. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.