With all the demand for data professionals these days, leading organizations with data analytics tend to be those that cultivate analytics talent from within rather than strictly seeking it in the job market.

That is one of the findings of the recent “Leadership Excellence in Analytics Practice (LEAP) Study” from A.T. Kearney, which found that even two-thirds of those organizations identified as ‘leaders’ were unable to meet the demand for data talent over the past year. A.T. Kearney’s Christian Hagen, partner in the Strategic Information Technology Practice at A.T Kearney, spoke with Information Management the study findings and the impact on data talent recruitment.

This is the second time that A.T. Kearney has done the data leadership study, but this year it

“took a bit more of a deep dive on the talent piece of it,” Hagen said. The firm expected to find a correlation between success with data analytics and a culture of talent development, but Hagen says his group was surprised by how strong that link is.

“For me it was much more how important it was to cultivate the talent as opposed to just hiring the talent, Hagan says. “What I mean by that is when we’re talking to CEOs and CIOs the question often posed is, ‘How can I hire and attract these people,’ as if it was a quick fix. What we found is that the leaders are cultivating the talent -- getting the talent early, and letting them grow within the organization, not just hiring them externally. While that was a hypothesis when we started the study, I did not expect to be as strong as what we actually found.”

That finding jives with advice Information Management has heard from several tech recruiters in recent months. The collective advice has been that organizations should scoop up top data talent whenever they can, even if there isn’t a specific need at that moment. The reason: there will be, and the organization will have a much easier time of tackling data initiatives if the assigned talent has been learning the business already.

So how to the ‘leaders’ at data analytics get to be that way, and what separates the leaders from the laggards? Hagen has several thoughts.

“There are a few different areas,” Hagen says. “One is that you really make sure that it is considered a core competency. From an analytics standpoint, are you able to move beyond data gathering and reporting to really use it to drive insights, predictions and even change how you deliver against business models?”

“Another was really from building these capabilities as a strategic priority. What we found was that leaders weren’t just hiring technical talent, they were really building it and looking for a balanced skillset from a business standpoint and from change management,” Hagen notes.

Data ‘leader’ organizations tend to invest in centers of excellence and really rotate that capability across the organization, Hagen says.

“As far as the ability for analytics success to really take hold, what we found is that there are a lot of gaps between the need for these skills and the ability for companies to acquire them. The talent gap is a big reason why you don’t see companies even further along. The lack of talent is a governor, if you will, of how fast you can go on this change.”

So how does the organization best cultivate data talent?

“The four things that we found is that they build a unique digital and analytics brand, and give junior hires room to grow and exciting career paths,” Hagen says.

“Next, leaders have embraced some of the rotational programs to give data pros an understanding of the business. Effective data scientists and data evangelists can come from a lot of different areas, but they do need to have exposure to the business and the business problems. Using these rotational programs was found to be most effective in cultivating these analytics and digital leaders.”

“The third is the use of cross-disciplinary teams to … analytics throughout the organization. Not having people with all the same background approach a problem,” Hagen concludes. “Also, think of it from a partnership standpoint – university partners, industry partners, to tap the talent they need and give students growth opportunities.”

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