Disys has had good luck finding people to deploy and run Hadoop clusters and NoSQL databases by collaborating within open source communities, according to Abbas. To find the creative, data-savvy wonks, it visits grad schools and hosts happy hours and birds-of-a-feather sessions at targeted conferences and events.
5. The standouts are good at listening, learning and communicating.
Big data analytics consulting firm Mu Sigma has an intensive internal training program called Mu Sigma University. Near the end of the three-month program, entry-level consultants are tested on their ability to communicate in group discussions during which controversial topics are discussed. In another test, students are asked to watch a five- to seven-minute video tech talk or listen to conference call and then summarize what they learned on a small index card.
[ Big data isn't all sunshine and smiles. Read Big Data's Dark Side. ]
The key, says Deepinder Dhingra, Mu Sigma's head of products and strategy, is to test prospects on their ability to listen, to synthesize and to articulate what they learned. At Mu Sigma, those who excel typically work directly with clients and high-level executives. It takes all kinds and there may be brilliant individuals who aren't gifted communicators, but if you don't see sparks, it's hard to see whether the intellectual fire burns within.
6. Renting can make more sense than buying.
Analytics consulting and outsourcing options range from specialists like Mu Sigma and Think Big Analytics to midsized firms like Disys to giants including Accenture, Capgemini, Deloitte, IBM Global Business Services, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers . Accenture, for one, has been building its analytics practice for five years, and it now has some 12,000 specialists in this area globally.
Consulting and outsourcing options may sound expensive at first blush, but keep in mind that you may not be in a position to hire. Even insurance companies and brokerage firms that employ skilled actuarials and quants, respectively, aren't necessarily prepared to apply analytics more broadly.
"When you're looking to take analytics across your organization, into managing your workforce, targeting your customers or improving management of your infrastructure and assets, that's a different game than just hiring somebody who is specific to a purpose," says Narendra Mulani, managing director of Accenture Analytics.
Abbas says Disys engagements average 18 months, lasting only as long as the project or initiative. The trick is ensuring that internal employees can carry the ball once the consultants move on.
7. Self service opens up opportunities.
How long have we been talking about self-service BI? Disturbingly, staff and managers alike still cite "preparing reports" among the top-five skills that are critical to their job. What's more, staff respondents rank "designing and revising reports" as their third most time-consuming task.
Technology is available to let business users create and tweak their own reports, and that could liberate data-savvy employees to handle more advanced work, such as predictive analyses. Self-service analytics aren't as far along, but here, too, the technology promises to eliminate time-consuming iterative testing.
Be a hero: save full-time equivalents through self-service capabilities and spend the difference on a data-savvy innovator who can help you spot opportunities and introduce profitable new products and services.