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Four Keys to Building an Analytical Workforce

Experts offer their advice on how financial institutions can build a workforce equipped to compete in an increasingly data-driven industry.

3. Invest in ongoing staff development.

A bank can instill and maintain in its workforce the types of skills and knowledge needed to leverage data by delivering ongoing training. In fact, research from the Accenture SAS Analytics Group indicates that at this point, companies are leaning toward training existing employees rather than hiring new ones, according to Cobb.

Although hiring new employees can be very expensive, Cobb notes that saving money is not the only advantage to training current staff. "When you go through training of existing employees, you're getting them on board with the idea that you're going to create an analytically based or fact-based decision culture," he says. "We know through experience that in order to get value out of your analytical investments, you have to have executive support, and you have to have a culture that values fact-based decision making."

Cobb recommends that training occur at three levels: the executive level, the level of a functional manager for a business line, and the practitioner level. Executives need to know how to lead the charge on creating an analytical culture, he says, and practitioners should get hands-on training for products, modeling techniques and modeling capabilities. Training business line heads, he adds, could involve conceptual design and helping them understand how to set up an analytical competency center.

4. Be creative when looking outside the organization for new talent.

Competition for analytical resources and talent is stiff across industries, notes SAS's Prentice. "This is one area where businesses really understand that investing in business analytics and people with these types of skills can glean them better performance, better productivity," she says.

Accenture's Blanchard says finding the right talent will come down to creative sourcing strategies. "A lot of organizations believe that they're going to have to go to very different sources and take different measures to attract and retain analytical talent," she relates. Prentice agrees, adding that organizations are now looking beyond areas that have been traditionally mined for analytical resources, to industries such as engineering and math.

Partnering with resources from academia and the vendor community also is a way both to help develop and find new talent. SAS has partnered with North Carolina State University to develop a Masters of Science and Analytics program, for example. "There's going to continue to be a huge talent gap in the market," says Cobb. "There's an appetite and there will be a big demand out there for these kinds of masters in analytics programs." Financial institutions, he suggests, can forge similar partnerships with universities.

Banks also may turn to their vendor partners to find analytical talent, says Sid Probstein, CTO at Newton, Mass.-based business intelligence vendor Attivio. "We really want to engage and help steer together toward the client's success. And that includes helping them with things like recruiting and defining what skill sets they need to bring in," he explains. "We get access to a lot of very senior technology staff -- and maybe their first place [to look for a job] wouldn't be a bank. How we can facilitate getting those people to the banks is making them available as part of a solution."

At the end of the day, says Accenture's Blanchard, bank leaders have to put mind-set ahead of skill set and create an environment in which information-based decision making is second nature. "With all of the data in the world, even if folks have the right data to make the decision, they need to also be in an organization where they're incentivized appropriately, and where there's appropriate accountability and governance in place to ensure that they make the decision that's in the best interest of the company and its stakeholders," she says. "That's leadership, and that's culture.

[For more on therise of IT hiring, see related article.]

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