In an ever increasingly complex and competitive global economy, business leaders are being asked to move towards more evidence-based decision making. Data analytics is on trend but the analytics maturity of each organization and data literacy of each business leader varies widely. Highly technical projects, led by non-technically trained managers, require a certain level of self-awareness, humility, and resourcefulness by the leaders. Project leaders should possess a thorough understanding of the problem and possible solutions, while retaining the credibility needed to manage others towards a positive outcome. Decision-makers must approach problem-solving more holistically, drawing from interdisciplinary teams of employees. But in this new era of “data science” where any self-taught scripter can step into an analytics role, how do non-technical business leaders build trust in the data?
This is one reason why I sought to receive Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) designation from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). As an operations research analyst, I was impressed by the rigor of the CAP process. This certification stands above other data certifications in that rather than be an abbreviated substitute for a master’s degree, it recognizes formally educated analysts that can effectively apply what they’ve learned in practice. The CAP stresses the importance of proper business problem framing up front and soft skills in any analytics consulting endeavor.
Studying for the CAP exam was a great exercise in refreshing operations research theories and methodologies I do not use regularly in my current role and even learning some new concepts derived from other computational disciplines. Analytics, as a practice, is quite interdisciplinary, drawing on theory and models from applied mathematics, operations research, economics, statistics, and computer science, to name a few. Despite my master’s degree in industrial engineering and operations research and more than 10 years of analytical experience, I found myself researching new methods to approach problem solving and different applications for my existing toolkit. The mere pursuit of the CAP refreshed and enhanced my knowledge and skill as an analyst but also gave me the confidence to grow my role from a transactional service to more of a thought leader, which is no small endeavor.
In highly bureaucratic organizations, analytical tasks are often requested through many layers of decision-makers. The original business question is often lost or too sensitive to pass down and requirements, even captured in writing, are taken out of context and passed along, much like the game of “telephone.” Too often, analysts develop complex models and/or solutions, while mathematically sound, that are inherently wrong because they are solving the wrong research question and subsequently business problem.
This is where I have learned to rely on my CAP training and my experience to work to change the process from a transactional “invoice” or Request for Information (RFI) to a conversation. For example, I have improved my practice of utilizing in-take forms and kick-off meetings for my internal customers to better scope out the business need before ever touching the data. One particular executive customer approached my team asking for a heuristic decision aid with predictive and prescriptive analytics elements. However, I ended up delivering a qualitative research study using targeted stakeholder interviews. The coded results of this study better informed the decision makers on how to prepare to even approach a more optimal business process.
The old adage that “to a hammer, everything is a nail” rings true in many disciplines. As a Certified Analytics Professional (CAP), my first discipline is operations research, but my practice is solving problems. That level of customer service is gaining attention, especially among non-technical business leaders, which has opened the conversation about CAP.
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