Whilst advances in digital hardware have arguably been slowing in the last few years, the explosion in the digital information it has enabled has not. We are in the early stages of an exponential growth in data volumes, the ultimate effects of which cannot yet be foreseen. With this comes an urgent and escalating need for excellence in data analytics leadership.
Over the years I have been lucky enough to interview some of the very best Data Analytics leaders, and some of the up and coming talent that will secure these positions in the future. One prediction I will make is that I believe over the next 10-15 years you will see far more CEO’s & COO’s within companies having come from a Data Analytics leadership background. The skills of the modern data analytics leader are far more aligned now with the skills needed for the top jobs then they ever have been.
In the meantime let me share with you some of the key traits that I have picked up from the most successful data analytics leaders.
Corporations, government and indeed smaller businesses are failing to grasp the scope of the opportunity – and risk – that the new distributed information landscape presents. Therefore, the two key qualities distinguishing those suited for leadership roles in this exciting field are the ability to foresee those dangers and opportunities, together with the wherewithal to convey these insights to the management of the enterprises they serve.
This requires exceptional people skills in addition to a thorough understanding of data and analytics. At times, they may feel like Noah warning of an impending flood of change that so many managers have yet to recognise. They have to be strong persuaders & evangelists with a clear vision that they stick by. Entrepreneurial flair & a pinch of sheer bloody mindedness is also good!
Academic knowledge of data analysis techniques may be a prerequisite but this takes a back seat to management and people skills.
A leader in the field needs a broader appreciation of the value of diversity than is often apparent in today’s data analytics specialists. Cloud, AI and information technology are diverse fields requiring team members with very different skill sets, but finding solutions for the right problems requires an entirely different type of diversity. Outstanding data analytics leadership recognises the value of an inter-disciplinary effort which could sometimes unite business analysts and social scientists with computer scientists, statisticians and visualisation engineers. It is the leader’s vision that melds these diverse outlooks into a team that can deal with any task it is set.
Some leaders are born, but others are created through training and experience. The head of a data analytics team needs a good grounding in project management tools and principles. They need knowledge of the various life-cycle modelling tools used in production environments so that the enterprises employing them are confident about delivery dates and fitness for purpose. They must identify appropriate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) so they know their teams are coping and on target. And they will appreciate the importance of tools such as Net Promoter Score to gauge whether they are heading in the right direction and serving the best interests of their organisations.
What they don’t necessarily require might be surprising. They don’t need better testing skills than their business analytics team members, or better knowledge of statistical tools than their predictive analysts. And their data analysts may well be faster at coding SQL to extract the most accurate and valuable data.
Another key responsibility of any leader is to elevate their team to its maximum potential. All teams have their strengths and weaknesses. Failings are the responsibility of a team leader because it’s a core element of the role to maintain awareness of shortcomings and to provide training opportunities and expert guidance to rectify them. Ultimately, a team that is stretched and given the opportunity to improve is a happy team, with committed members who believe in its value and have a strong desire to succeed.