When statistician Kari Mastropasqua left the academic world 15 years ago, she had little idea her communication skills would prove to be such a valuable asset in the data and analytics (D&A) industry. 

Starting at Equifax as an analyst, she witnessed the market increasingly adopt D&A led initiatives as business began to realise the value of data. Progressing to Director of Analytics and now Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Equifax, Kari championed the importance of translating complex data into business value.

Here’s what Kari had to say about why the future is bright for technical professionals who can ‘speak data’ by comfortably understanding and communicating its business benefits.

Has the data and analytics role changed since you joined the industry 15 years ago?

Organisations have come to realise what a great asset data is, but it hasn’t always been easy for them to unlock its value, understand it and use it. Data and analytics are complex, and you need smart technical people who can communicate this into something of value for the business. 

We’re seeing the creation of new roles, such as my role as Chief Data and Analytics Officer, which didn't exist 15 years ago. In organisations, we're seeing the data and analytics function change from being back-of-house to middle-of-house, to front-of-house. It's because there are so few of us, and business wants to make better decisions using the information we can unlock.  

Are technical skills still in demand in the data & analytics industry?

What's on the rise is people with technical skills who can lead, who can influence, and who can communicate the value of what they’re doing.

The industry started with analysts who would take orders for a project, then came data scientists who are skilled at taking analytical approaches to derive insight. Both are still very technical minded. 

One of the newer roles that I believe will become more popular is the business scientist: people who can connect the data dots, talk to technical people and talk back to the business and frame it in a value-add. I’m seeing that some tertiary institutions are changing their degrees to have more of this data science plus business competency. 

What does your role as Chief Data and Analytics Officer involve?

I look after the full data and analytics value chain: the capture of information, the data strategy, what data is needed to be brought into a business, how it’s brought in, the quality and the governance. Then I work out how to purpose this information, so it becomes something insightful back to the business. 

A vital part of my role is to work with my team to get buy-in from stakeholders. People know D&A is exciting, but they’re generally intimidated by it. So, it's essential that as a function we're able to communicate what we're doing in the context that someone else in the business can understand.

What’s rewarding about your current role?

That it's continuously growing. We're developing standards as an industry, but it's continually changing and always new. What inspires me every day is solving problems and making a difference. When I hire team members, one of the traits I look for is adaptability and the willingness to grow because there’s so much change in our industry.  

I also enjoy growing teams and growing capabilities because it’s back to my academic days as a teacher and coach. 

We know your ability to communicate is one of your great strengths. What are some of your other attributes? 

A good balance between IQ and emotional intelligence (EQ) has helped. Also, being outcome focussed – seeing the benefit of what we do to the business.

Could you share your tips for being a good influencer?

Everyone around the table is different, and their leadership styles are different. I try to think from the perspective of others – what's important to a Chief Financial Officer is different from what's important to a salesperson. So I frame my conversations differently for different people.

How would you define data & analytics?

This is part of the challenge because we don't have standard definitions and roles. I don't know if there is one definition, but it could be described as a collection of capabilities that goes from taking the raw data, preparing that information, applying an algorithm, analysing it and turning it into an insight. 

Good data and analytic companies have great coverage across this spectrum – they have solid competencies in that raw data capture, the preparation and the analytics. 

There are levels of maturity, but the ability to repeat, have frameworks, have standards and processes are different things. It's about having data, having analytics and having stability and scalability in the solutions you build. 

What’s been one of your biggest client challenges and accomplishments while at Equifax?

An immensely satisfying team project was working with Domino's to use data and analytics as a predictor of where to place stores and how to predict profitability. At the time, Domino's was not fully aware of our D&A capabilities, so the challenge was to show them our ability to apply advanced analytics to decision making. It’s a great example of how well we work as a team to connect data and use predictions to drive client growth strategies. The project was so successful Domino's deployed it around the globe. 

What are your future predictions for the industry?

In the coming years, the combination of skills and the way the industry is heading, we’re going to see a rise of executives at most organisations having some D&A background. Experience in data and analytics will pepper though to our future leaders. 

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