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

Blog Posts

Why defining brand strategy is vital to capitalising on quick wins

Big brands were once protected from small brands by high barriers to entry. Big brands had the resources to employ big agencies, to crack big ideas and to invest in big campaigns. They had the luxury of time to debate strategies and work on long-term innovation pipelines. Retailers used to partner with big brands.

Troy McKinnna

Co-founder, Agents of Spring, Calm & Stormy

3 ways to leverage the talents of your team to avoid disruption

​According to the World Economic Forum in its most recent The Future of Jobs report, the most important skills for the future are not technical, task-oriented skills, but higher-order skills such as creativity, social influence, active learning, and analytical thinking.

Gihan Perera

Futurist, leadership consultant

CMOs, it’s time to stop squandering customer attention

Businesses continue to highly value the attention they buy through paid media, yet at the same time, many continue to disregard and under-value opportunities to connect with customers using their owned media.

Well written Vanessa!! Agreed with your view that human experience is marketing's next frontier. Those businesses who are focused on the ...

Clyde Griffith

Forget customer experience, human experience is marketing's next frontier

Read more

Great tips for tops skills need to develop and stay competitive

Nick

The top skills needed to stay competitive in a rapidly changing workforce

Read more

The popularity of loyalty programs is diminishing, though I'd say it is because customers are savvy enough to recognise when a loyalty pr...

Heather

It’s time for marketers to rethink their approach to ‘loyalty’

Read more

Thanks Nadia for sharing this blog. It has really useful and amazing information about Salesforce Commerce Cloud and digital engagement w...

Holly Smith

Adidas taps data and technology smarts to build personalised digital engagement with consumers

Read more

clearly someone who's jealous and only comments from the safety of being behind their keyboard

Peter Sibson

The purpose of purpose - Brand science - CMO Australia

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in