Developing skills in today’s workforce for tomorrow’s data challenges

Data traveling inside a tunnel
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Business leaders are under increased pressure, now more than ever, to not only deliver more with less but also to make real-time decisions while surrounded by uncertainty. Data-driven insights are crucial in making better decisions, faster. But the data landscape has become more complex, and there are simply not enough trained data scientists to go around.

So, how can business leaders overcome the data science skills shortage that is stalling the supply of real-time, accurate, data-driven insights to the decision-makers?

The most valuable data skills for any employee… aren’t data skills at all

While enterprises worldwide strive to become more analytically mature, most are underutilizing a key resource: the knowledge worker. Their most valuable skill? A unique understanding of the wider business context behind the issues to be solved. While this may not immediately be classed as a data science skillset, their relevant expertise is the key to unlocking meaningful insights.

I have seen incredible examples of companies successfully democratizing the power of analytics beyond the few data scientists available. At McLaren Racing, domain experts benefit from self-service analytics where they can access and explore data. It not only helps them find answers simply and quicker, it frees up data scientists to think about the next cutting-edge tool the team can develop to magnify performance impact.

These knowledge workers sit in every corner of the organization, specializing in each distinct discipline like tax, finance, operations or logistics for example. They have the domain knowledge and non-technical soft skills required to turn information into insights. Yet, they often don’t have the right resources and enablement to deliver impactful business insights. For example, a logistics company trying to choose the optimal route for a delivery would ask a driver – not a data scientist. While the data scientist is aware of macro trends, the driver knows the micro changes that may otherwise be hidden.

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is the CEO of Alteryx.

How business leaders can build future data heroes – not hire – their way out of the skills shortage

While data scientists will always be in high demand, analytics is a collaborative and fluid discipline, and technical talent alone will not help unlock the valuable nuggets of insight hidden in data. Non-technical soft skills can help propel insight generation beyond the preserve of an elite few gatekeepers and democratize it to all. Gartner predicts that by 2025, for organizations to remain competitive, analytical and soft skills will be the most sought-after skills in the data and analytics talent market.

With not enough trained data scientists to go around, business leaders and recruiters need to move beyond gravitating to high demand and short supply pure data science skills. Whether you’re hiring a team, building a team, or looking to enter the world of analytics, there are three essential soft skills I look for, that bridge the gap between raw data and decision intelligence:

Communication: Effective communication and listening skills are essential for translating complex problems and data into easy-to-understand insights. The ability to confidently discuss, present and promote your ideas, solutions and insights with a variety of audiences is key to showcasing the value of your insights and influence effective outcomes.

Collaboration: Analytics is a team discipline. The best outcomes are achieved when diverse teams come together to share their individual perspectives and then iterate on each other’s ideas. No one person will have all the answers, and multiple diverse voices make an insight more thorough and meaningful. The very best ideas rise to the top and the results are far stronger than what one person can achieve on their own.

Curiosity: Data insights aren’t just delivered; they need to be discovered. Relentless investigation, exploration, experimentation, and iteration are all hallmarks of effective data insights. To flourish in this wide-ranging investigative role needs someone keen to tinker - to take different routes, see many angles, and explore novel approaches to discovering insights.

Embracing diverse skills to operate effectively with data

Translating data assets into innovations that drive value is on every business leader’s wish list as they strive to convert data into a competitive differentiator. As a business leader striving to break free from uncertainty by becoming nimble and efficient in their day-to-day decision-making, it is far more beneficial to have a wide range of diverse domain experts with data analytics skills than a very small number of expert data scientists who cannot possibly provide the breadth and depth of analysis you need across your enterprise.

The end-to-end process of refining data for business-changing insights requires a multitude of steps, experience, and skill sets… not all of which are tied to data science. There was a time when leveraging big data for insights was solely the domain of data scientists, but those days are gone. People, combined with accessible technology, help ensure data-driven insights are driven across the enterprise. Advances in no-code/low-code self-service analytics have ensured that analytics has become so accessible that anyone can solve business challenges with data and deliver decision intelligence without a data science qualification.

The combination of soft skills, and existing domain expertise, can quickly help bridge the gap between raw data and decision intelligence. It all comes down to how you take today’s in-department experts and empower them to solve their own problems more effectively. Harnessing the diverse range of non-technical skills in your teams will help transcend pure data science and deliver actionable decision intelligence based on valuable unique domain expertise.

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Mark Anderson is the CEO of Alteryx. For the past two years, Mark also served on the Alteryx Board of Directors. During his tenure on the Alteryx board, Mark played an active role in the company's operations and strategy.