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The year of the analyst

The advent of digital brought with it the incredible measurability of the online channel. When coupled with a recession, where every dollar counts and profitability of every move is questioned, data-informed decisions have become critical to many companies. Analytics is not just reserved for companies at the top, but is becoming a cost of successfully doing business.

It’s not just about the collection of copious amounts of data, but on the integration and use of it. Ultimately, companies need the right resources in place to analyze, interpret and recommend new courses of action. A heavy investment in tools, without investment in people, is seldom successful.

Welcome to the new breed of analysts. Whether companies are hiring a “web”, “digital”, “cross-channel”, “marketing” or “business” analyst, there’s no doubt that it’s a great time to be a data geek.

Increased demand

The demand for analysts is directly related to the growth of online business, aided by the proliferation of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. The responsibility of the “Web Analyst”, whose role was initially focused just on behavior on a company’s website, has already expanded in scope, evolving to include online, mobile, social and traditional channels, as well as the integration of online and offline.

Those already working in digital analytics can attest to the barrage of recruiter calls to coax experienced analysts over to a new company, as the demand exceeds the number of analytics professionals available in the market.

Greater awareness at the college level

Growing awareness of the profession at the college level will help to (slowly) fill some of this demand. Educational institutions are starting to introduce courses tailored specifically at this new field. The University of British Columbia began offering an award program in web analytics in 2005, and other schools are following suit, with certificate programs or course work within marketing focusing on digital analytics.

The existence of these programs can help make students aware of a career in digital analytics. Programs such as Marketing, IT, Business, Economics, Mathematics and Statistics continue to lay a great foundation for a career in digital analytics, and still represent the majority of the entry points into the field, but these new dedicated courses allow students to learn enough to hit the ground running in a junior role.

An abundance of resources

For someone interested in joining this growing field, there are a number of ways to get involved. The Web Analytics Association (WAA) has chapters across the U.S. and provides local events, education, conference discounts, research, standards, training, awards, certification and great professional networking opportunities.

The Analysis Exchange is a program that provides a “student” of analytics with hands-on experience tackling the analytics challenges of a non-profit, supported by an experienced mentor. Another option to gain experience is to volunteer your services to a local charity or small business. The availability of free tools means anyone can get their feet wet in this industry.

For professional networking and to talk to those already in the industry, attend a Web Analytics Wednesdays or WAA local symposium, or getting involved via social media. There are digital analytics groups on Twitter via the #measure hashtag, Facebook, Linked In and Yahoo. Ask questions, and you’ll be surprised at who will take the time to answer them.

In addition, companies are creating more opportunities for those looking to break into the field. For example, Red Door Interactive created an internship program that helps students get hands on experience in a variety of areas, including analytics. The interns not only help collect and analyse data, but they learn how an agency works and how to be a part of a cross-functional team.

For companies needing to hire analytics professionals, it can be tough, and it’s not likely to change soon. Good analysts are typically happily employed and frequently recruited, so companies need to be open to developing entry-level or junior analysts on the job, consider internal candidates with compatible skill sets, allow flexible working arrangements (like remote employees) or make an offer too good to refuse. As long as demand continues to exceed the availability of resources, it will continue to be an analyst’s market.

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