The Importance of Functional Analysts in Data-Driven Organizations

Having worked with enterprises and many public organizations in their digital transformation journey, I am happy to share that more and more organizations are now realizing the importance of fostering a data-driven culture in their organizations. This is worth noting as not so long ago, the emphasis would simply be on acquiring data science and AI technologies, including Cloud technologies.

This shift of focus to people and culture highlights the vital role that functional analysts play in business transformations. And it’s something we emphasize in many of our consulting engagements. Functional analysts are fundamental in breaking down silos in organizations.

What are functional analysts? Broadly speaking, functional analysts (I sometimes also call them business analysts) help improve business and operational processes (and products), increase efficiency, and reduce costs through analytics and collaboration with other organizational stakeholders. They have excellent analytical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills, and business acumen, among others. They provide organizations with actionable insights to help the latter better understand and optimize operations. These analysts are found in a wide variety of functions in organizations: operations, supply chain management, finance, marketing, HR, environmental compliance, etc.

The question we usually get when highlighting the vital role of functional analysts is, “how may we develop them?” or “where can we get them?” Of course, we may rely on external hires, but we can also explore in-house training, which is more practical, not to mention cost-effective. Learning pathways for the development of functional analysts must then be designed with proper contextualization. As educators and practitioners ourselves, we typically help clients on this end, too.

Recently, one of our clients asked for guidelines on how they may develop functional analysts in the organization and identify individuals they can prioritize in terms of upskilling.

Our advice is to first identify employees with the necessary aptitude to become functional analysts, as they may be prioritized for upskilling. The aptitude should include technical skills, analytical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and an understanding of business operations. The last item is very critical. Once identified, individuals should be provided with training to help them develop the necessary skill set to become functional analysts. This may include courses on business analytics, programming (Python and R), data visualization and storytelling, and an introduction to machine learning. In addition to training, organizations need to provide the tools and platforms to apply these new skills and implement projects.

Indeed, organizations looking to establish a data-driven organization and gain a competitive advantage must also prioritize developing functional analysts to enable a data-driven culture. Moreover, creating a core team of functional analysts allows organizations to build an efficient analytics-driven culture, which could also improve the embedding of data scientists and data engineers in the organization; this is especially true for non-digital native enterprises. Finally, by identifying employees with the aptitude for this role and providing them with the necessary training and resources, organizations can accelerate the building of a competent and efficient analytics team that can provide valuable insights into their operations and performance.