The Care and Feeding of Data Scientists

CIOs must encourage data scientists to solve real business problems, not just play with data.

As more organizations hire data scientists--especially for predictive analytics projects--IT leaders are discovering that managing people who can turn data into ideas for business actions takes a deft touch. The sharp analytical skills key to the role can sometimes get in the way of answering big-picture corporate questions.

"I'm coaching them to make sure they're aligned with the company, but I'm not prescribing methodology," says Anne Robinson, director of supply chain strategy and analytics at Verizon Wireless. "Because if you want a high return on your analytical investment, allow them the freedom to explore."

Robinson, who is also president of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, a professional association, says good teams incorporate a mix of academic skills and applied experiences. Personal characteristics, such as the ability to make connections and express ideas well, are important in the corporate setting, managers say.

And it's increasingly important for CIOs to be able manage analytics teams well--an Accenture study last year found that analytics is "moving from a secondary role in business to the core of many key decisions and processes." For example, analytics may be used to predict customer behavior or prescribe changes that make the supply chain more efficient.

Working in the Real World

Managers should guide their data scientists to interpret data, not just crunch it, says Betsy Page Sigman, a professor at Georgetown University. "Some data scientists are so fascinated by data they lose the forest for the trees," she says. Focus them on bigger corporate goals so they can make predictions in a business context.

Andrew Jennings, chief analytics officer at FICO, a $676 million financial services and credit score company, says statistical skills are hardly enough. He wants people who can both program and see how analytics can be used to shape business strategy. "It's absolutely critical to understand the problem you're trying to solve," he says.

For example, if his team is working on a predictive analytics problem such as improving fraud detection at the point of sale, it needs to analyze the data and factor in real-world business conditions, such as the need for speed and no false positives in the final product.

Finding all those skills in one person is tough, so Jennings looks at the team as a whole. Team members fill roles that use their strengths: a data scientist with communication skills, for instance, will work with business folks.

Other traits are also important. Lon O'Donnell, manager of professional services at International Game Technology, tries to foster inquisitiveness in the data scientists at the $2.2 billion gaming systems company.

"I need someone who makes sense of the data instead of just aggregating it," O'Donnell says. He wants people willing to learn the gaming industry.

In turn, to keep high-performers happy, he stockpiles less urgent projects to provide challenges during slow work times. "You have to always engage their minds," O'Donnell says.

Read more about big data in CIO's Big Data Drilldown.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments
cmo-xs-promo

Latest Videos

More Videos

who wants to date me I am 9 years old and i am a boy

Jeremy Hawkins

Sink a sub gaming experience signals Subway's renewed brand push

Read more

Great read. I agree that it should be a perfect balance between interacting with your customers and knowing your brand. As a business, yo...

Caroline Scott

7 ways CMOs can improve their customer engagement game

Read more

Very true. Team development helps improve collaboration among the team members. I was able to improve my team's collaboration skills by t...

Quent Sinder

Why empowering others can help make you a great leader

Read more

CRM is a very good software that can help you succeed in your business. In my company, this system has allowed me to improve customer rel...

Anna Janicka

Sensis rebrands to Thryv and brings business software to Australian SMBs

Read more

AI Leasing Assistants have finally arrived for the multifamily industry. With so many to choose from it can be hard to figure out which i...

Alice Labs Pte. Ltd.

CMO's top 8 martech stories for the week - 6 May 2021

Read more

Blog Posts

Unboxing 101 - How savvy influencer engagement can build a brand

The humble unboxing video is a powerful tool. Correctly executed, it harnesses consumer fandom, viral authenticity and brand design magic to deliver a high-impact message to a tightly targeted cohort of consumers.

Gali Arnon

Chief marketing officer, Fiverr

​Power to the people

Purpose is the ultimate statement of intent for many organisations. Why are we here? What are we trying to achieve?

Rich Curtis

CEO, FutureBrand A/NZ

The playbook to develop strategic brand moats

Warren Buffet is an unlikely ally for marketers. But his belief businesses need strategic moats that increase their value in the market while acting as barriers to competitors can offer marketers a new playbook for brand building and driving growth.

Fabian Di Marco

Founder and managing director, Tzu & Co

Sign in