Analytics: Breaking free of the bottleneck

In recent years, more companies are building analytics functions that report directly to the C-Suite, and are hiring analytics leaders.

Anyone who’s been to a national restaurant brand lately might notice that they are moving diners in and out more quickly. Behind the scenes, they are eliminating waste by stocking exactly the right number of burgers and pats of butter. Banks can tell whether their customers have started a new business or had a baby, and they tailor services and advertising directly to them. Pharmaceutical companies keep track of emerging outbreaks and move their products to affected areas before the peak. Retailers, insurance companies, online stores, and dozens of other industries are embracing the data revolution to flatten information silos, streamline operations, and improve customer experiences.

But that revolution is just beginning, and smart companies are figuring out that analytics is not optional; it’s essential to their future success and survival. That means companies across the board, from life sciences to manufacturing, retail and online services need a generation of analytics leaders that understand and can adapt to the fast changing field while helping to integrate data into their products.

A changing role.

Historically, many organizations viewed data and analytics as a support function; one that provides reports, develops complex models, and helps make other functions smarter. In recent years, more companies are building analytics functions that report directly to the C-Suite, and are hiring analytics leaders with the strategic acumen and leadership experience to be part of the top executive team. These leaders need to act as a consultant to the CEO and board on what insights are found from the data, and how this information can help the organization make critical business decisions.

Customer focus.

Advanced analytics has become increasingly prominent as organizations seek to better understand their customers and users. Analytics has unlocked the power to analyze user experience and consumer behavior at a deeper level, and this trend will continue as more and more data becomes available on how customers interact with organizations through mobile devices, social media and other emerging mediums. Companies that have implemented strong customer-facing data initiatives have seen a correlation to improved client satisfaction, increased sales, and better employee retention.

Bridging the talent gap.

The analytics industry has produced lots of talent with strong skills in gathering, understanding and implementing data. But when it comes to executive charisma, team building, and strategic thinking, those leaders often hit a wall. Analytics leaders tend to fall into two camps. Half are deeply quantitative and technical. The others come out of management consulting. Given the polarity of talent in these two groups, a gap between technical and business skills is the main bottleneck in analytics leadership for larger, more complex organizations. Without the right leader in place to bridge the business and technical nature of the role, organizations find themselves in a position where the analytics function becomes tactical, and buried within the organization.

Casting a wider net.

One solution is to cut across markets and look more broadly for well-developed talent that may not be found in the usual channels. That means watching other industries and getting a handle on global analytics leadership in banking, retail, consumer, life sciences, and organizations using data in new and productive ways. A broad search needs to look at large companies and emerging firms. Finding great talent might mean transposing a skilled executive from one industry to another.