Opinion: How to hire great data talent in 2021
There’s a lot of hype around AI, and for many years now, businesses have been navigating the journey to assembling large data teams in hopes that positive results will follow. But staffing for data and AI initiatives is no easy task: data teams are complex, nuanced organisations with different kinds of people using different tools, and data talent is more in-demand than ever.
Hiring managers are often faced with several staffing challenges when starting out or scaling the enterprise AI journey, starting from the most fundamental one, which is a lack of specificity around the business’ AI needs. Companies that have not gone through the essential planning or assessment of what their data and AI needs are can end up passing on incomplete (or unnecessary) requirements to hiring managers, which can lead to poor hiring choices and high turnover.
Beyond this, the hiring and assessing of qualified data talent can also be problematic. Existing staff need to be armed with effective interview techniques to properly evaluate whether a candidate brings the right skills to a team. And when a team is up and running, it’s up to managers to ensure that formal upskilling, which is fundamentally critical to AI and staffing, is in place and running efficiently.
The good news is that with a comprehensive approach to understanding different data profiles and skill sets — mapping them to the organisational needs at every stage of the AI lifecycle — plus the right combination of targeted hiring and upskilling, companies can start building for a sustainable enterprise AI initiative.
Who (and what) should AI hiring managers be looking for?
Many companies stumble at one of the first challenges in their AI hiring journeys: knowing who (and what) to look for when building successful data teams. Surprisingly, much of this is down to the fact that AI hype often focuses only on the data scientist role, expecting it to cover every skill and specialism across the organisation related to data and its operations.
The first rule of thumb is to ditch the idea of hiring a data unicorn — an all-in-one data wizard who possesses every skill required to conceptualise, create, maintain and productionalise successful data models that can drive business decisions. These people may exist, but they are extraordinarily expensive to hire, and they may not be what organisations need anyway.
What businesses really need is both a diverse set of data related roles and profiles. There are many skillsets beyond the realm of the data scientist that can support and work with each step of the AI lifecycle, and it’s just about finding out what skills the business needs and mapping that to the roles required. These may be data professionals who focus on stats and algorithms, or those who are specific vertical experts. They may also be data analysts that have some coding experience in SQL, SAS or another language, and who have a good general understanding of databases and infrastructure.
In order to go beyond the AI hype and successfully implement a comprehensive and sustainable Enterprise AI strategy, you need to be able to dissect each part of the data journey, translate it into concrete organisational resources and needs, and then map those needs to the different data roles and profiles available. You might just find that where you thought you needed a unicorn, a data analyst, data manager or machine learning architect will do. Beyond that, you may also find that you’ve already got the resources in house.
Key questions to ask surrounding data profiles
Now that the concept of life beyond the data scientist is firmly in mind, it’s time to consider what the needs of the business are and which types of data profiles will add the most value. Considering this well before the job posting stage is essential, as it will help hiring managers to identify and list specific skills, which will influence the questions asked in the interviewing stage.
Here are a few ideas surrounding key questions in understanding an organisation’s immediate needs for data projects:
- Can you define the data projects the organisation will tackle?
- What are the final, expected outputs of these projects? Will they be:
- Smaller scale (for example, dashboards or analytics for internal use, or more geared toward a self-service
- Operationalised models in production impacting a large part (or parts) of the business?
- Is data for the projects readily available, or will part of the projects themselves be around finding and mining new data sources?
Data-driven initiatives fuelled by machine learning, and AI platforms are a clear win for data teams and, when implemented the right way, can provide insight to businesses that can drive pivotal business decisions. However, the challenge of handling future growth must be balanced with the reality of hiring and upskilling team members with diverse profiles and skill sets that are appropriate for your business model.
Ultimately, finding a good mix of data professionals that is the right balance for the business is key to staff retention. A well-oiled machine means happier employees, with fewer people having to perform tasks outside of their skill or comfort zones.
People Moves EMEA: Kearney, KPMG, Oliver Wyman, Skoda
It’s been a busy week for executive transitions across EMEA and especially in the world of consulting, with partner/CEO announcements at Oliver Wyman, KPMG and Kearney, and in the role of head of sustainability, with new CSO appointments at Laing O’Rourke and Syngenta Group.
We round up the biggest executive moves across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Nick Studer announced as CEO of consulting giant Oliver Wyman
Set to take the top job at consulting giant Oliver Wyman next month, Nick Studer has been named CEO and Dual President of the firm’s economic and brand consulting subsidiaries NERA and Lippincott and will be based in London. Having been with Oliver Wyman for more than two decades, becoming partner in 2003, Studer has since served in a variety of international leadership roles, including head of Global Corporate and Institutional banking Practice, before becoming managing partner at the start of 2021.
According to Dan Glaser, CEO of Oliver Wyman parent Marsh McLennan, Studer has not just led many of the firm’s practices, but he “has been a leading voice for change and a major driver of our Inclusion and Diversity agenda”.
Delphine Bourrilly to lead Kearney in France
Seasoned consultant Delphine Bourrilly has been appointed leader of consulting firm Kearney for France, one of the firm’s larger locations in Europe, becoming fifth head of the Paris office. Having been with Kearney for more than a decade, most recently leading the Leadership, Change and Organisation practice across Europe, Bourrilly has an array of client successes under her consulting belt, including overseeing an operating model transformation at a large retailer. Prior to this, she spent five years at UBS. According to Geir Olsen, Head of Europe at Kearney, Bourrilly’s “talent, energy and charisma will be critical in leading Kearney through its next growth phase in France”.
Roland Villinger becomes head of corporate and product strategy, Skoda Auto
A consulting veteran, Roland Villinger has been appointed head of Skoda Auto’s corporate and product strategy, a newly created area for the Czech car manufacturer that combines two departments. Described by Skoda’s CEO Thomas Schafer as “an international experienced leader and proven digital expert”, Villinger most recently oversaw the implementation of Volkswagen Group strategy and was also previously chief strategy officer and chief digital officer at Audi AG. Prior to this, he spent 25 years at consultancy McKinsey including serving as a senior partner and running McKinsey’s operations in the APAC region.
Hanan Alowain promoted to Partner, public sector, KPMG
Becoming the second Saudi female partner in the history of KPMG, Hanan Alowain has been promoted to Partner in the firm’s Public Sector function. With 14 years of experience in human capital and social development in the Kingdom, including the last three and a half years at KPMG, Alowain is a Harvard Business School graduate with extensive experience both in the public sector, as director of research and development for the Saudi government’s Ministry of Labour, and the private sector, including as a partner at investment & development group Eradah.
Vicky Bullivant named Laing O’Rourke’s first-ever group head of sustainability
Seasoned ESG leader Vicky Bullivant is joining Laing O’Rourke as its first-ever group head of sustainability from Drax Group where she was head of sustainable business and responsible for developing the firm’s climate ambition, social strategy and community and charity policies. Having led the world’s first company ambition to be carbon negative by 2030, and the UK’s first energy company to commit to improving skills and education for one million people by 2025, Bullivant boasts 25 years of ESG business experience in highly regulated sectors, FTSE 100 companies, government and NGOs.
Bullivant spent eight years at Experian, where she was head of corporate affairs and community, nearly four years as head of corporate responsibility at Eon, five years as group head of sustainability at Rolls-Royce, where she turned around the firm’s performance in the Dow Jones Sustainability index, as well as sustainability heads at Tate & Lyle and Drax Group.
Daniel Vennard joins Syngenta Group as new CSO
Former global director at the World Resources Institute Daniel Vennard has been appointed chief sustainability officer for Syngenta Group. Based in Basel, Switzerland, Vennard will be responsible for developing and implementing the Group’s sustainability into its business strategy. Bringing extensive experience in the development of sustainability strategies and in launching global sustainability programmes that deliver growth and impact, Vennard most recently served as global director at the World Resources Institute, Vennard founded the Better Buying Lab bringing together scientists to develop, test and scale innovations that help consumers opt for sustainable plant-based food.
Prior to this he spent 15 years at Mars and Procter & Gamble in sustainability, corporate strategy and marketing and brings “creativity and remarkable expertise in sustainability” that will “help us further advance regenerative farming practices and help mitigate the harmful effects of global warming”, says Erik Fyrwald, CEO, Syngenta Group.