It’s no secret that, with the continuing rise of big data, organizations of all sizes are using business intelligence (B.I.) and analytics more than ever before. New and highly advanced analytical toolsets have proliferated, all of which aim to help IT teams and information management professionals sift through mountains of data. But along with the growth of big data (which some pundits project will increase worldwide by roughly 40 percent each year) and the increased embrace of B.I. as a driver for better decision-making, another trend has presented itself: a vexing shortage of analytical human talent. In order to realize the greatest benefits of big data and B.I., it’s critical to leverage the talents of people with deep expertise in statistical analysis. As powerful as they may be, B.I. software tools alone are not a panacea: it takes some very human skills to consume and effectively apply the results coming out of B.I. systems. And unfortunately, the present dearth of talent in this area appears likely to continue for the next few years. A 2011 report from McKinsey & Company’s Business Technology Office predicted that demand for analytical talent in the U.S. would exceed supply by 50 to 60 percent by 2018. “There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data,” the report added. “The United States alone faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts to analyze big data and make decisions based on their findings.” The McKinsey report also suggested the type of deep talent required among individual data analysts is difficult to produce, oftentimes requiring years of training. Fortunately, the managers overseeing the analysts can be retrained without “years of dedicated study.” That leaves a short-term gap for analytical talent. Companies should be looking for data analysis and statistical gurus who possess a firm understanding of business processes. Those workers have likely developed and honed their skills over years of practical experience in the field—and chances are, if you identify a strong candidate and bring them onboard, they’ll probably have a network your organization can leverage to augment your B.I. team. Look to B.I. solutions providers, too, for guidance in identifying skilled people. Longer-term, tapping colleges and universities that have strong curricula in math and logic, analysis, database development and integration, programming, and business processes can open a gateway for recruiting young talent. If enough organizations follow this path, it could help convince educational institutions that such blended talent is truly desired by the business world. It’s important to note that not all candidates will come from the IT space. Those that do, will likely need to be trained in the business processes that are inherent to a particular organization or industry. Flipping around that equation, someone who possesses business-process knowledge and analytical skills could require cross-training on the technical side of things. Lastly, your quest for the right individuals to help your organization reap the most from its B.I. endeavors will also necessitate ongoing support and buy-in from upper-level management. As more and more companies look at big data and B.I. as competitive differentiators and drivers of revenue growth—McKinsey & Company estimates that retailers effectively maximizing big data can boost their operating margins by 60 percent, for example—finding qualified B.I. experts to leverage that data to its fullest extent needs to be as paramount as putting in place the technology infrastructure to support it.   Image: nokhoog_buchachon/