ANALYSIS

5 keys to winning the battle for analytics talent

The battle for analytics talent is fierce—and for government agencies, it often feels like an uphill battle. Government agencies, just like private-sector firms, have the ability today to access data and technological tools that can yield true long-term benefits. But at the core of this is talent: finding smart, driven people who can work seamlessly at the intersection of technology, analytics, and business.

Capturing these types of knowledge workers has proven complex and difficult. The supply of truly top talent—those with the right combination of business and technical skills—is well below demand, and competition is driving up prices. And for the government the challenge is even greater. Most programs lack the budget to truly target the top-tier talent, and government hiring restrictions can trim the already-limited pool of possible workers. With analytics not a traditional job code, the workers who do enter often find themselves siloed with few mentors and less opportunity advancement than they might find in industry.

Clearly, government leaders have work to do to attract this enough talent—and importantly the right talent— to staff their key programs and systems.

Leaders and Laggards

Our most recent Leadership Excellence in Analytic Practices study, based on a survey of 400 executives across 30 industries and more than 10 countries, identified the leading organizations in the analytics revolution—the 8 percent for which analytics generates foresight on future business trends, plays a role in decision making, and drives innovation. A look at these analytics leaders offers some guidance on a path forward.

These leaders recognize the importance of building a new generation of business managers with specialist skills in the areas of quantitative analytics, digital technology, and business strategy. These managers are not the “geeks” of another era. Today’s analytics workers have some of the highest-paid positions in the market, thanks largely to the value they can bring to their companies and the scarcity of available people to fill these roles. On top of that, the elite talent is proving to be much more than a numbers cruncher—they are also strategic thinkers that can help other organizational leaders look toward the future.

These elite analytics employees aren’t just coding and analyzing data; they are business smart, incorporating skills that go well beyond mere math or technical ability to help their companies grow. The firms we identified as leaders in the LEAP study cite an array of both business and data skills—including data management and integration on one hand, and change management on the other—as important for their analytics talent. The trilinguals they seek are analytical and quant-oriented on one hand, but big picture-focused on the other, able to extract stories from data and analytics.

Applying Analytics to Government

All types of analytics organizations have trouble attracting the right people for available jobs. In fact, 43 percent of LEAP respondents say at least 10 percent of their companies’ digital and analytics positions are unfilled They remain unfilled not only because of the shortage of talent but because many companies simply don’t know what skill sets they want from their digital and analytics employees and don’t do what it takes to attract and retain them.

These skills are as important for government entities as they are for almost any other organization, - and even harder to fill.

So what can government leaders do to attract these crucial people?

Treat analytics as a core competency. For the U.S. government, analytics is a nontraditional job code, making it a role that does not fit as neatly into agencies or the military as it would in the business world, which makes it less nimble. However, analytics must become a core competency for the government, which means establishing a place within and across departments where these skills can play a central role. It also means communicating how analytics improve performance and save taxpayer money, both with internal stakeholders and constituents.

Develop formal career paths and informal interest groups for analytics. Government analytics work needs a formal career path to truly become a core competency. This means exposing analytics workers to government activities and the right training and tools, determining how to advance and scale the function, and determining who they will work with, so they know

Focus on customers and constituents. Analytics can serve as a way to better understand the needs, desires, and habits of constituents. It can also help proactively deliver new and improved digital services.

Identify opportunities for analytics to transform functions. With the first two steps in place, you can then look to ways that analytics can transform functions. Procurement is one particular area where analytics can help drive improved performance and greater efficiencies.

Make appropriate investments for key technologies and architectures. This is, of course, a task not unique to government, but government is typically seen as a laggard when it comes to technology. That said, there are some small but high-impact things the government can do to get more from analytics.

Across government today, there is an opportunity to build this analytics competency. Important among all of the steps listed above is that analytics must become an internal priority—one with clear career paths, meaningful mentorships, and an overall feeling of belonging. And by letting the talent work on tough problems, government leaders can demonstrate quickly that analytics provides values and can be transformative for the government.

Analytics has the opportunity to transform how government works. The next step is putting the best people and structure in place to make it happen.

About the Author

Christian Hagen is a partner in A.T. Kearney’s Strategic Information Technology Practice and is based in Chicago.

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