One of the most important factors in successfully adopting a data strategy is the data champion. This person is able — through influence, education or example — to advance the cause of data throughout the organization. His or her role will vary between organizations, but should include some of the following:


  • Analytics strategy
  • Change management
  • Technical duties, including responsibility for analytics infrastructure and source systems
  • Advanced data analysis
  • Responsibility for data integrity and data governance
  • Business area domain expertise
  • Staff training and support

Often there are no obvious candidates for such a wide ranging and strategic role, leaving association executives to decide whether to hire an external candidate or develop one from existing staff.

For some associations, hiring from outside is the clear choice. It offers the advantages of bringing new skills ad capabilities, new perspective and additional bandwidth to the team. The learning curve can be reduced by hiring someone who has specific experience in analytics and the selected tool set.

But hiring can be difficult and expensive. Be prepared to compete for hard-to-find talent in a market that heavily favors candidates. Whether you believe the U.S. job market has truly rebounded or we’re still in the grips of a jobless recovery, there is no disputing that some of the hottest and fastest growing careers are in data and analytics.

Data scientist topped the recent Glassdoor survey of the 25 best jobs in America, with analytics manager coming in at #11. In fact, the ability to understand and analyze data is recognized as a key success factor across occupations. Fast Company names understanding of analytics among the eight career skills you need to be competitive in 2016.

Association leadership may do better if it looks to its current staff for answers. A good choice for data champion may be:

  • A single senior leader with a broad knowledge of the association’s business and data requirements, and the influence to advance the analytical mindset throughout employees.
  • A group of department-level subject matter experts who are the most familiar with the data and who lead by example, showing others how they can leverage analytics to perform their jobs more efficiently.
  • An experienced analyst, who is an expert in analytics tools and works across all departments providing support to department leads and staff.

Internal candidates know the organizational structure, the culture, and most importantly the data at a level that it will take an external hire months or longer to equal. Yes, there will be a learning curve in the new position, and backfilling a current position may be a challenging, but creating an opportunity for an existing staff member through promotion or reorganization is often the safest bet.