IT Job of the Future: Super Data Analyst

May 14, 2015

IT Job of the Future: Super Data Analyst

BY John DeWolf

BCDR

The IT game is changing. Do you have the data—and understanding—you need to compete?

Major league third-basemen who play today run more their predecessors. They can blame Bill James.

For years, James published a detailed analysis of baseball statistics. In part, data show that some players have a strong tendency to hit the ball to right field. To counter this tendency, managers move the third-baseman to a spot between first and second, usually a few yards into the outfield grass. The move reduces hits—and makes third-baseman run more to re-position. It’s great example of data analysis that ultimately changed how the game is played.

While there’s no single equivalent to Bill James in the tech sector, a few analysts publicly—and consistently—tease out new insights from numbers.

  • Mary Meeker, of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, annually presents a deck of information-rich slides that identify important Internet trends.
  • Benedict Evans, of Andreessen Horowitz, offers a steady stream of data, and analysis of the mobile sector.
  • And Horace Dediu, of Asymco, watches Apple trends over time, which he sometimes presents in the form of dynamic charts (using, appropriately, an iOS app).

These analysts are unique in that they truly transform data into understanding - to benefit from their expertise, just read what they share online.

Yet nearly every business would benefit from this type of expertise applied to its sector. That’s why there’s a new role emerging: a super data analyst. This person performs three tasks exceptionally well: they get and dissect data, analyze it, then create and tell compelling stories about the data.

Historically, large companies relied on teams of experts to perform these tasks. A database administrator extracted customer or product reports. An analyst segmented data to identify patterns. A mathematician verified that variations were statistically significant. And a marketing specialist sought to keep communications….you get the idea. Lots of people did lots of things.

Diving deeper here, a super data analyst performs the following:

First, they know how to get reliable data. They know how to export data from databases, but they also know how to access data via APIs, when needed. They can identify potential problems with extracted data based on the data itself—Those outliers? They were entry errors—or based on selection issues (e.g., survey respondents were self-selected). Bottom line, these are people who can do a better-than-awesome job to articulate the difference between a brainless Buzzfeed poll and a Pew Research statistically valid global survey.

A super data analyst also knows how to analyze data. They can create a spreadsheet, sort, filter, and run regressions in the time you or I brew a cup of coffee. More importantly, they have a deep understanding of history and the sector. They know how business activity translates to a company’s financial reports. Sector cycles look normal to them. Definitions matter: they know that a laptop may - or may not - be defined as a “PC”, so they look for the distinctions that matter.

Finally, the new super data analyst knows how to communicate the significance of data. Often, this means they can create a series of slides, then tell a compelling, but sometimes unexpected story from the series of charts. They compare and contrast trends to illustrate a point, and highlight data that contains important signals, while filtering out the noise. Their stories tell us which trends to watch and how fast things change. Above all, they tell us why the data matters.

In short, the new super data analyst is the Bill James of your sector (or business). They dig deeply into numbers to discover different ways of thinking about the world. And sometimes—as with the shifts that are now common in baseball—what they learn changes the business itself.

Is your organization lucky enough to have a super data analyst? If so, share some details about how this person helps your company in the comments below!

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