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!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Blog Posts

The competitive advantage Australian retailers have over Amazon

With all of the hype around Amazon, many online retailers have been trying to understand how they can compete with the American retail giant.

Joel Milligan

Performance manager, Columbus Agency

How to become the customer experience custodian

The number one objective enterprises give for embarking on a digital transformation is to improve customer experiences with new engagement models, according to IDC’s 2017 global study.

Fear not: It's only a robot

Every time I pass through the automated border controls at the Sydney airport I walk away with a feeling of exasperation on the one hand and relief on the other. Exasperation, because the face recognition technology inevitably always fails to recognise me. Relief, because we seem to be safely years away from the Orwellian reality of states controlling every aspect of our lives; something the media is keenly warning us against each day.

Dan Kalinski

CEO, iProspect Australia and New Zealand

And to add after looking at event pictures plus, observing all AU's visible Blonde Bimbos (think Julie Bishop to this Georgie Gardnerare)...

absolutelyconcerned

In pictures: CMO 50 2017: The who's who of Australian marketing leadership

Read more

CMO 50 2017 announcement mentioning "innovation". I checked date and its November not April so its wasn't an April Fools' Joke. Australia...

absolutelyconcerned

In pictures: CMO 50 2017: The who's who of Australian marketing leadership

Read more

I worked at Momentum when the transformation started way back in 2013 (not 2015 as stated in the article). It was a painfully slow and co...

Jay

How Momentum Energy has transformed its entire business to be customer-led

Read more

Another buzzword thoughtlessly latched onto, without any thought for the implications on the organisations that have to lumber through th...

Tired

Rolling out agile marketing at Deakin

Read more

Useful., also don’t miss out on these 5 features of Adobe Experience Cloud - Visit here > http://www.softcrylic.com/b...

Sunil Joseph

Adobe debuts Advertising Cloud, Experience Cloud

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in