The Importance of the Analyst

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At last week's Monitoring Social Media Bootcamp, several speakers highlighted the importance of the human analyst. Having several of us stress the continued requirement for a knowledgable user to do something useful with the tool was apparently a surprise and a disappointment to some. So it must have been a shock when some later speakers showed examples of just how complicated this stuff can be. For those who aren't shocked, that complexity will be a lingering source of competitive advantage as the tools continue to improve.

Software still doesn't replace people
Jason Falls describes the lack of strategic services as where social media monitoring services fail, but that's not a fair summary. The market has both software companies and service companies, and clients can decide how much of the work they want to outsource. The software model requires that the user do something useful with the tools. The services model adds highly skilled consultants to the mix, at a higher price.

It's a familiar decision: build or buy. In this case, it refers to analytical skills and the ability to link analysis to business insights. In the journey from raw data to insight and strategy, some of the distance can be traveled by software. The rest requires people, no matter how sophisticated the tools. The available choice is whether the people who complete the conversion of data into insight are employees or consultants.

This response from Sysomos nicely summarizes the importance of both the software and the analyst:

When you think about it, neither side can be successful or effective without the other. The technology is interesting but not useful or valuable without people to do something with it, and people are only able to do a limited amount of monitoring without the assistance of technology to sift through millions of conversations.

All of this is in the pursuit of insight—the monitoring and mining modes of listening. In the monitoring and response mode, the emphasis is less on insight than on action, but similar logic applies. A monitoring platform can automate the discovery of items requiring a response. Although a few automated response products are available, most companies will want a person in the customer-service loop.

I'm surprised that people are surprised by this.

As a person myself, I'm glad that computers haven't replaced us.


3 Comments

Vive human analysts! :)

Michelle @Synthesio

I encounter this perception often, and it is frustrating. Upper management has the perception that software can do everything and that we can get rid of human analysts and everything will be hunky dory. What I find is that this perception is often held by people who haven't really worked with data...messy, non-normalized data that requires decisions to be made by a human.

Ooh, flashback to data scrubbing for routine reporting in an operations environment. Not the highlight of the job.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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