Finance leaders are dealing with a significant shortage of accounting and finance professionals who possess the technical and nontechnical skills required for data analytics initiatives.
This is the key finding in a joint report, Building a Team to Capitalize on the Promise of Big Data, released earlier this month by Robert Half and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).
When building their accounting and finance teams, managers most commonly seek business analytics skills in financial analysis (87 percent), followed by budgeting, planning, and forecasting (85 percent), operational analysis (82 percent), and cost management (81 percent).
But finding accounting and finance professionals who have these skills has proved to be difficult, making it challenging for department leaders to recruit, develop, and retain people who possess these attributes, the report states.
Among technical skills, here’s what is missing the most:
- Identifying key data trends (29 percent)
- Data mining and extraction (28 percent)
- Operational analysis (28 percent)
- Technological acumen (27 percent)
- Statistical modeling and data analysis (27 percent)
The most significant gaps in nontechnical skills, or soft skills, are found in:
- Decision analysis (37 percent)
- Process improvement (35 percent)
- Strategic thinking and execution (32 percent)
- Adaptability to change (31 percent)
- Communication skills (29 percent)
“Finding data is just part of the equation – and may just be the midpoint in the process,” the report states. “Using their knowledge of the business, staff must also be able to turn the information they mine into actionable guidance. The ability to communicate findings and make recommendations is a requisite for success with data-related initiatives.”
So, what can firms do to successfully build teams of people who have the necessary data analytics skills? One way is to enhance employee retention. Some organizations find it easier to keep staff with the necessary expertise than to hire new talent, the report states.
According to the 479 executives and managers who were surveyed for the report, the most effective ways to retain accountants who have analytics skills are:
- Supportive attitude from top management (28 percent)
- Comprehensive benefits (18 percent)
- Professional development (16 percent)
- Above-market compensation (14 percent)
- Developed career path (13 percent)
Additional strategies include establishing a supportive corporate culture, helping professionals achieve work-life balance, and keeping work fresh and challenging.
But, remember, the number of internal professionals who have the required analytics skills is limited. So, firms must be proactive with continuing education and ongoing training, said Kip Krumwiede, PhD, CMA, CPA, director of research for the IMA.
According to the report, developing skills from within was considered an important practice in building a team’s analytics skills by 68 percent of survey respondents. The most common types of training for these competencies are:
- Tuition reimbursement
“[We train] up our existing employees to better understand the data that is being analyzed, what information they should be looking for, and what information should raise a ‘red flag,’” said Shane Hood, CFO of Total Highway Maintenance LLC, who was interviewed for the report.
The problem, however, is that only 14 percent of respondents said their firm offers training related to data analytics.
Other successful practices that were cited in the report include hiring from outside the company (44 percent), working with consultants or project professionals (39 percent), networking within professional associations (31 percent), and using a recruiting firm (24 percent).