How to Staff an Analytics Team
By David Sprinkle
Since the demand for analytics professionals outweighs the supply, this column outlines which roles are best kept in-house and which ones you should outsource.
If you’ve ever had to hire people for your web analytics team, you’ve probably noticed it is far easier said than done. The fact is, in today’s market there’s far more demand than supply for analytics experts. That’s great for those of us in the industry who like job security, but it can be a huge headache when you’re trying to build a team.
One option, of course, is to hire consultants (like me!). But is it really a good idea to outsource something as fundamental to your business as your web analytics? In this post, I’m going to try and answer that question based on my experience and the experience of many of my clients.
Key Analytics Roles
The first point I’d like to make is that there are actually a few different roles in an analytics team and you probably shouldn’t worry about trying to find them all in one person. The key roles I’d outline are a front-end developer, a web analytics developer, a solution architect, a project/team manager, an analyst, and a test strategist. For our purposes, I’m including testing in the web analytics team, since the whole point of analyzing your website data is to act on it and make the site better.
What to Keep In-House
The only role that I would say you absolutely need to keep in-house is the project/team manager. A consultant can help manage an individual deployment, sure, but you need somebody who’s going to be in charge of your overall analytics strategy. The fact is, an outside consultant isn’t going to know when you are planning a site redesign, and isn’t going to be in every meeting that might be relevant for analytics. If you’re serious about analytics, you need somebody in-house to take charge.
Typically, I’d also recommend keeping the front-end developer, who’s actually going to be modifying your server-side code, either in house or as part of your existing third-party development agency. You want someone who knows your site well; they don’t necessarily need to understand the arcane ins and outs of your analytics tool.
If you have a large organization with a lot of developers, I do find that it helps a lot to have one or two developers who are considered points of contact for analytics projects. These people should get at least a basic training in doing code validation and using the tool interface. This person can prove invaluable as a bridge between marketers and IT.
What to Outsource
Conversely, in my experience, there are some analytics roles that it probably makes sense to outsource to a consultant. These include the solution architect, web analytics developer and sometimes, the test strategist.
Unless you have a huge organization, it’s unlikely you’re going to have enough work to hire a full time solution architect or developer who knows all the ins and outs of your tools’ code base. Furthermore, in my experience, there are advantages to having people in these roles who have a broad experience across a lot of different sites and who are familiar with different ways that different organizations solve the same challenges.
The Toss Up
So that leaves analysts somewhere in the middle. For most organizations, I do think it is a good idea to have somebody in house as an analyst, though smaller companies may not be able to afford or justify hiring one full-time. For companies that are trying to build up their analytics teams, I usually recommend hiring one or more analysts full-time but leaning on consultants in the interim. Ideally, your consultants can help train your internal stakeholders and “teach them to fish” over time.
The good news is that being a good analyst is mostly about being smart, enjoying mysteries, and having a firm grip of deductive and inductive reasoning. You don’t even really need to be all that good at math! So if you can hire people that are smart and willing to learn, within a few months or a year, you can turn them into an analytics wizard.
So that’s my take on hiring; if you can think of any other critical roles I missed, leave a comment.
An expert on analytics architecture and integration, David specializes in the innovative design and implementation of analytics solutions that deliver both global “big picture” insights and detailed performance metrics. David leads Acronym’s Analytics Practice as well as its Adobe Preferred Partnership, wherein Adobe subcontracts work to David’s team.
David also has extensive experience working with major analytics, bid management and reporting platforms, and is noted for his expertise in integrating such solutions into companies’ larger marketing and business infrastructures. David is a Certified Omniture Professional and a veteran industry speaker. His Client portfolio includes such leading brands as Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, SAP, The Tribune Company, HP, Scholastic and Humana, among others.