The demand for data analysts shows no signs of slowing, as nearly half of organizations say they plan to add these professionals to the payroll this year.

That is the conclusion of Experian, in its recent white paper on “Investing in digital transformation: This year’s most sought-after data roles.”

As noted by author Thomas Schutz, senior vice president and general manager at Experian Data Quality, “data-driven businesses need two things: data and people who understand data. As organizations work to keep up with the pace of digital transformation, many of them are looking to their information as an opportunity to drive revenue and reduce costs. You need to have the right people on your team who can collect, manage and analyze your data in order to create business value.”

Accordingly, 46 percent of organizations polled by Experian are increasing their headcounts for data analysts this year.

But data analysts come in a variety of stripes, with different skills, and knowing which one is right for your organization depends on business needs.

“When hiring a data analyst, it’s important to first define how granular you’d like to get when analyzing your data,” Schutz advises. “If you’re interested in identifying high-level trends such as user engagement or activity, a potential candidate would need less technical expertise – and be a cheaper resource to recruit – than a candidate who would be expected to analyze vast amounts of data to build predictive models.”

Schutz describes the ideal candidate as one who has “a comprehensive understanding of data science concepts and [is] comfortable using statistical tools such as SPSS and big data tools like Apache Spark and Hadoop. Because this role is typically business-facing, they should also be a skilled communicator who can break down complex data science concepts into terms business users can understand.”

Data analysts aren’t the only data pros in demand this year. According to Experian’s research:

  • 30 percent of organizations plan to hire data protection officers
  • 30 percent will fill customer-focused data roles
  • 28 percent will hire compliance officers
  • 22 percent plan to hire data champions
  • 18 percent expect to add chief data officers

Helping to drive interest in the data protection officer role is the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, which goes into effect on May 25, 2018.

In preparation for GDPR, “we are seeing an increase in the number of U.S. organizations looking to hire data protection officers,” Schutz says. “The data protection officer will become a required position for all organizations that collect or handle the personal data of EU citizens.”

When hiring a data compliance officer, “compliance with GDPR requires a deep understanding of data protection processes and laws, especially those impacting EU citizens, so any potential DPO you interview should be well versed in those areas,” Schutz notes.

“In addition, they should demonstrate an aptitude for navigating technical and organizational structures, as they will need to interface with employees at all levels of your organization in addition to the proper regulatory bodies outside of your organization," Schutz says. "The ideal DPO should have exceptional management skills and be a skilled communicator able to traverse potentially difficult conversations with regulators.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Experian report is the demand for chief data officers. When recruiting and human resource execs were asked about hiring plans for this role, 19 percent said they have plans to add chief data officers to staff. But, when chief executive officers were asked about plans to hire a CDO, that number rose to 51 percent.

“Because a CDO would typically be hired by their C-level peers, we believe that the actual number of companies hiring a CDO role is closer to that 50 percent mark – and that makes it, by far, the most sought after position by businesses today,” Schutz concludes.

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