A [hopefully] clearer picture of the future analyst

Thanks to everyone who read last week’s post “I don’t want a web analytics job.”

A dude in Ottawa replied to me that he wrote a follow-up post, and I think it’s very good, but I have a few follow-up notes.

Atlanta Analytics posts are all about fanning the flames and pushing for change in this industry by getting you thinking; not giving anyone a checklist of how to get there, which is first, impossible and second, assumes my audience is less capable or creative than I imagine you are. We are adolescents, as an industry, and need to realize that what we see today — how companies are structured and what roles exist — isn’t what the future looks like.

But that future won’t change much unless we usher it in the right direction. The future role of an analyst isn’t a CIO. Maybe a CEO at best in an SMB environment — they will be the ones starting and/or turning these online companies around. But probably (especially in a big company), it’s going to be a VP-level digital strategist of sorts, but one who is hands-on and must exit of his digital cave every now and then. The best outcome would be taking the job of running the entire site over from the CMO, maybe creating a new position of CWO, who is a person who “gets it” on all fronts. Those people do exist. They are the future of current-day analysts and other rare positions that are unspecialized by nature. I can’t think of a more concrete and actionable recommendation than that (maybe not concrete, but that’s about as much direction as is possible in changing our world). Let’s get there.

Getting traction with web analytics is hard. Winning a gold medal is hard. Getting a business built is hard. Everything is hard. And I really don’t care. And am I am saying web analytics is beneath us? Absolutely! It is! Who in the hell wants this job after they’ve done it for a while? We all want the job to evolve. We want to be involved. We want to get a piece of the action. And no, that doesn’t require us being executives, but it does require us to move beyond reports, tests, etc. and learn what’s really happening in the business so we can come up with recommendations and own them all the way to the end, rather than passing them off to someone else to manage. We want to get out of the weeds (and let the future of the industry get into them), and start to take this incredibly-rare, unbiased, multi-discipline understanding to its logical application.

If you do not aspire to be an executive (or close), holistically managing the site, you will be an analyst forever. If you aren’t spending more time learning about what generates cash flow than you’re spending learning what generates page views, you are getting passed. It’s perfectly fine if you love this job and want to stay right where you are, but be aware that you are only of marginal value to a business. This job is worth a million-dollar salary, easy. But only if we get to the real world and own this set of skills. Really own it and its implications.

We spend a lot of time talking about executive buy-in, convincing organizations to be data-driven, etc., and how hard it all is. And it’s true. It is hard. But until we can get a CFO to attend eMetrics and not want to hang himself in his shower after a day of sessions, we are not there. It’s great for us to refine our skills (and eMetrics is a phenomenal learning opportunity), but there are two sides to the job, and two languages we need to learn. We are incredibly skilled at our own language, but incredibly inept at the language of business, resource allocation, process management, operations, etc. where our findings really have application. This is the language that will create change. Is inept too strong a word? Maybe, but the analysts on the front page of the WSJ are not of the web variety, yet.

Let’s get there. There isn’t a “road map.” There isn’t a list of instructions. It’s going to require you to get creative with your executives, because every business is different. And believe me, if there was a list of instructions, you’re not going to get that million-dollar paycheck. Ever.

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  1. Interesting post and I would take some of your thoughts and some of Jim thoughts on the Napkyn blog.

    The only area where I have to disagree is when you imply being an analyst forever would be some kind of unambitious or “only of marginal value to a business”. A very long time ago (yes, I’ve got gray hair) I read a fantastic book that I still perfectly remember: “Becoming a technical leader” by Weinberg – at the time I was a junior programmer (around 1987). At the time I couldn’t envision getting a Master degree (I got an MBA now), and when asked by my boss where I wanted to be five years later, my answer was always “to be recognized as a leader in my field” (yes, you can call that ego!). And my goal was to be recognized as a top developer, system administrator and DBA – not as a manager. It has never been my objective to be a manager and I have always avoided this career path.

    Even if the natural career path seems to be to climb the organizational ladder until you become CEO, you can actually make a fantastic career as a professional in your field – and bring amazing value to the organization.

    I guess what is more important is future managers sitting in Marketing and Management classes today are much more aware of the online world and the importance of data-driven management. Yes, as a web analyst today you are undergoing some kind of “training” to become a good analyst with the skills and abilities to optimize the business – and become a CIO if you wish to do so eventually. But it’s certainly not everyones dream.

    Keep up the great posts, it’s refreshing to see new ideas and conversation topics!


    Posted May 17, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink
  2. Thanks for the feedback, I wholly agree, and should have probably done a better job with this post.

    The real transition I’m trying to convey is one where analysts break away from the role as it is defined now, and start to attach themselves more to the process and outcomes of their analysis, moving further from the handoff process many businesses struggle with today. I feel like the description in the marketplace is largely around dashboards, reports, testing, and basic analysis – heavily biased toward the “training” tasks – when the job can really evolve into a more proactive one, irrespective of management responsibilities. I do think that we can add incredible value (and be recognized for it) without climbing a traditional ladder of titles, but that requires creating new paths with new functions, maybe some of which have already been created in forward- thinking businesses.

    Posted May 17, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Permalink