There is a big and growing demand for top leaders with a solid background in data science and analytics, as companies seek to translate the mass of data available to them into useful information that will improve customer experience and ultimately the bottom line.
Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of Jack Hammer, which is rated as one of South Africa’s top 3 executive search firms, says data analytics is no longer purely a highly specialised technical function, buried in a corner of the marketing or business intelligence divisions of organisations.
“With the emergence of the next wave of big data and consumer intelligence tools, companies are recognising how the insights gained from data analytics can dramatically transform their engagement with their customers – from personalized product offerings, service and experience, to relevant value adds and communication,” she says.
“All of these translate to an enhanced relationship with customers, and increased spend.”
She says that, as the data science discipline gains prominence and power as a key business driver, demand is increasing for leaders who can leverage and channel data-driven insights into commercially relevant initiatives.
“It is all very well to have a group of rocket scientists in a room, doing awe-inspiring things with statistical tools, algorithms and artificial intelligence. However this high-level work must translate into capabilities and offerings that add value to customers – and this now requires leaders who can drive the commercialisation and strategic direction of data science efforts,” she says.
Goodman-Bhyat says that as consumer intelligence tools continue to evolve, companies are now increasingly looking to appoint senior leaders to manage processes optimally.
“In the past, consumer intelligence projects would often have been outsourced to consulting firms, but organisations are starting to realise the integral role data analytics has to play in growing and making the company future-fit, and therefore need dedicated in-house people who have deeper insight into the company, who can ensure consistency and continuity of strategy and importantly, an attachment to outcomes.”
However she says given the relative youth of the field, it is a challenge to find the full package of seasoned leadership and technical brilliance.
Typically, professionals in this field will boast significant educational pedigree, with Masters or PhD level degrees ranging from Advanced Analytics and Decisions Sciences, Machine Learning and Robotics, to Mathematical Statistics, Applied Mathematics and Computational Science.
“But at the moment, these exceptionally qualified professionals often still lack the leadership and commercial capabilities and experience required to be positioned at senior management or EXCO levels in large organisations. What companies are looking for is someone who can guide the organisation – and their teams – in terms of what they should look for, how they need to find it, and what they need to do with the information to translate it into value for the business and its customers,” says Goodman-Bhyat.
The gap becoming evident in this domain is the dearth of individuals who have the technical nous but can also operate at a strategic level and manage teams, she says.
“These leaders have to be strong enough and technically skilled enough to hold their own. This evolving role, while still new, is set to become the norm in years to come, and it is therefore important for companies to start making the investment in either developing the leadership skills of their top technical staff, or developing technical skills of top leaders.”