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September 8, 2020

Finding and Managing Super Analysts for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Gaurav Anand

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Super analysts are unique combinations of individuals who understand the business, technology, data, and statistics to get the best of all worlds. They can fit into any business function, turbocharge system projects, and enhance ML programs’ effectiveness. These analysts are well-versed in relevant data, understand the definitions of metrics, and move fast on solutioning.

Super analysts cannot be created. They can only be nurtured, and they must also be protected. Their role often runs counter to the organization structure; and once they reach the pinnacle of their superpowers, they are especially vulnerable to the Kryptonite of overwhelm and undermine. It’s best if management finds these individuals from within their organizations, and develop programs to train and utilize their talents. Even in mainframe environments, this role may unleash the extraordinary power offered by these under-appreciated, over-taxed resources sought after in today’s computing landscape.

Super Analyst Traits and Skillsets

The super analyst is an amalgam of the many skillsets found in corporate IT environments. These individuals possess a unique ability to occupy the unfilled “middle” spot in many organizations. There is no Super Analyst Ph.D., and yet they are the glue—the glue to ensuring IT departments function effectively.

A super analyst working on business planning would have accounted for gaps in the data marts, created the right correlations between metrics, and automated the tracking in a dashboard. The analyst works with systems teams to fix or augment systems or data warehouses with dimensions to enable more accurate business performance measurement that improve the bottom line.

Advantages and Benefits of Super Analysts in Any Environment

Letting a super analyst lead projects that require systems, data, and business process expertise yields better, quicker solutions. They see the big picture, which is often mistakenly reserved for senior leaders who look at things the same way they always have.

When poor or missing data makes gathering intelligence difficult, super analysts cut through the mess and sometimes make bold assumptions to achieve the directional insight. And if they’re wrong, one of their strengths is their willingness to pivot quickly. Super analysts can understand what is possible from an organizational perspective, and then propose informed, yet innovative solutions.

Their real superpower is excellent communication. They enhance presentations to showcase the team’s work, build strong analyst, manager, and executive networks, and ensure better collaboration among teams. Yet, they are often met with resistance.

Organization Structure and Personnel-Related Resistance

Two challenges obstruct super analysts’ presence in corporate environments— organization structure and personnel-related issues.

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The problem with the organization’s structure emanates from the silo effect. While being a specialist is rewarded inside the silos, the organization needs generalists to connect the silos. Siloed team members often feel threatened by super analysts and may try to stonewall their efforts by blocking access to the right data. Meanwhile, management may be unwilling to risk changing internal company policies. They could unwittingly hold back on tools and training for the new position in their hesitation to let the person learn—make mistakes, even—from short-term failures that result in longer-term gains.

The personnel-related challenges come from several fronts. One is that bandwidth for the person is often stretched to the point of overwhelm. Switching among many types of projects means super analysts end up on projects with changing timelines making it tougher to measure their impact and performance effectively. Working styles can sometimes clash: super analysts are agile and execution-focused, while traditional analysts can be more methodical and comfortable with long time horizons. Finding just the right person is critical.

Four Steps Toward Finding and Nurturing a Super Analyst

It is preferable to draw from the ranks of the company’s employees, so there is grounding in the organization’s culture and products or services (see figure 2). The person can come from the business side or the technical side of the organization.

Step One: Look for these characteristics.

• Curiosity about everything and ability to grasp concepts quickly;
• Very high problem-solving skills and bias towards execution;
• A belief that technology can be used to automate/solve most problems in business;
• Ability to weed out information from noise;
• Pursuit of perfection in data, analyses and systems, preferring accuracy over shortcuts;
• Facility in working with people.

Step Two: Match their skillsets with diverse and challenging projects representing a high degree of difficulty and a variety of weighting—heavy on either process or data or systems.

Step Three: Create rotation programs so analysts can work on various teams within several departments to understand the challenges of different job functions and build their network.

Step Four: Don’t overload the best analysts (even though there is a temptation to do so to get better results faster.)

Once the individuals are identified, the rules for nurturing and protecting understood, there needs to be a robust program in place to ensure their success.

Ensuring Super Analyst Success

Every organization can tailor the program to their requirements. These are good starting points. Five ways to initiate and run a super analyst program:

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1. Provide management support for the super analysts on projects they’re working on so they can be seen as important contributors to the projects. This can include asking the analysts to provide updates and including them in senior-level review;

2. Give out fewer projects at a time. Given these analysts are usually deployed on the toughest projects, they must have the time to strategize and come up with better solutions. Especially in the beginning, they should not be added to more than one to two longer-term projects at a time;

3. Create a balance between how much time the analyst is allowed to devote to ad hoc requests versus core project time. This is a double-edged sword because while one-off tasks distract analysts from their key projects, working on these tasks could result in learning and relationship-building;

4. Implement a culture of questioning and pressure-testing of every solution. While attending either architecture reviews or project plan updates, leaders must question every assumption and every dependency between functions. The deeper the questions, the more the super analysts can showcase their knowledge and ensure they’ve been thorough on solutions;

5. Demand excellence and accountability. Super analysts take pride and ownership in their work. Managers should require accountability so the analysts can be inspired to produce their best work every time, which may also incentivize their teams to contribute to projects in meaningful ways.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Super analysts draw on diverse skill sets that do not reside in every person either on the technical or business side. Super analysts are those people who possess the potential to articulate the big picture vision out of a tsunami of data and enhance decision making by synthesizing information and communicating effectively.

The challenge in the IT environment is that the very essence and value of each technical job derives from its unique, specialized knowledge. The parts are essential to the whole, and yet specialization leads to communication and strategy gaps, silos, and inefficiency. The resulting sluggishness in decision-making confounds the nimbleness needed to follow the trends in what Forbes Magazine calls a “4th Industrial Revolution.”

Super analysts in the IBM mainframe environment might be especially challenging. However, if this is truly the 4th Industrial Revolution, the trends indicate every company needs a person that connects Information Technology (IT) solutions to the organization’s business needs. This person is not a data scientist. And they are beyond the business analyst. It is the super analyst that embodies this enormous potential. To achieve their potential, and the corporation’s mission, the savvy CIO’s job is to find the super analyst. Nurture. Protect. Repeat.

About the author: Gaurav Anand is head of finance at Google Cloud. He has a proven track record in business strategy and analytics, and enterprise operations and team building. He has an MBA from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech.), Chemical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. Gaurav Anand can be reached at [email protected].

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