So how exactly does one become an innovation analyst? What skills should be developed and qualifications attained to help along the way? This guide covers everything from degree options to possible career tracks.
The rapid rate of technological change offers both opportunity and threat to modern business management teams, making tracking these changes a process of significant strategic value. This business need has given birth to entirely new fields of study, strategy, and professional development. Central to this emergent field of studying innovation is the innovation analyst.
This organizational role is a mix of business skills and technical capabilities and would typically fall within the business school from an academic perspective. An innovation analyst is closely related to more traditional change management disciplines within organizations, where mid-to-upper level strategists explore how their organizations can adapt, evolve, and grow to capture competitive opportunities while evading threats.
In the 21st century, this change management and technology integration process has accelerated significantly. Complicating matters further, not every new wave of innovation will produce sufficient long-term organizational benefits which outweigh transitionary costs. Enter the innovation analyst, who will construct a strategic valuation through a unique mix of business modeling abilities and technological experience to understand integration’s implicit and explicit costs.
So how exactly does one become an innovation analyst? What skills should be developed and qualifications attained to help along the way?
Innovation Analyst Degree Programs
There are quite a few roads to this particular destination, many of which will be industry-specific and contingent on technological experience. It’s worth discussing the educational requirements, expected experience levels, and the demonstrable skills hiring managers will be looking for when recruiting these analysts.
Developing the skills for this role is a lot like developing skills for other analytics-based roles. Knowledge of basic problem-solving approaches, statistics, and business modeling are fundamental requirements (and future job responsibilities). This means working collaboratively across the organization, gathering disparate data, and synthesizing likely future outcomes of implementing new technologies within the organization.
The second skill set it’s best to bring to the (hiring) table is some degree of engineering ability. This could be either on the software side or the hardware side from a technology perspective, with software skills seeing significant demand increases. As an analyst, it’s best to get your hands dirty within the particular product environment in some technical way. This could be intermediary coding skills, database management ability, or machine learning knowledge.
To demonstrate these skills, most professionals will start by fulfilling the expectation of an undergraduate degree. As innovation analytics is relatively new, there aren’t many university programs available for this specific discipline. Holding an undergraduate or graduate degree in business management, marketing, computer science, finance, engineering, or operations will provide a meaningful hiring advantage, particularly when coupled with industry experience.
As business analytics continues to grow and increase in importance, some universities are beginning to offer degrees that specialize in the link between business analytics and technology. The Rochester Institute of Technology, for example, provides a degree specifically in Technology Innovation Management. While undergraduate degrees like this are still relatively rare, MBA programs are popping up more often with concentrations in innovation or technology from a management school perspective (a list of 20 such programs can be found here).
As degree programs specifically in innovation analytics are still few and far between, other good approaches include online training, bootcamps, and technical certifications.
Additional Training and Certification
Once prospective innovation analysts have the basic skills and education to succeed, they may want to consider targeting short-term bootcamps or professional certifications in the industry they would prefer to work in. These can range quite widely depending on the technical focus of the analyst, but there are a few pretty common examples worth mentioning.
A simple place to start for bootcamps is graduate schools at universities. Graduate schools realize that many professionals are looking for shorter-term crash courses in key tech fields and have catered their offerings accordingly. For engineers looking to augment their business analytics skills, Harvard, Wharton, and MIT offer affordable and reputable programs. For those who already possess the skills and knowledge in business analytics, picking up a CBAP (Certified Business Analytics Professional) is an excellent resume addition.
For business professionals looking to improve the technical side of their qualifications, the options are quite a bit broader and more context-dependent. A good starting point is to identify what areas of innovation and technological growth are of interest and invest time gaining the relevant engineering or/and computer science competencies. For this, it’s best to explore an example of how to go about this. Let’s start with cloud computing.
A particularly common placement for an innovation analyst will be within the fields of cloud computing, and particularly machine learning and AI opportunities within cloud computing. Amazon Web Services (AWS), the most commonly used cloud computing platform, offers extensive certification programs for developing professionals on how to integrate these technology products within a business environment. The closest competitor is also significant, being Microsoft Azure, which offers an equally broad range of highly valuable professional certifications. This is an excellent starting point for any burgeoning innovation analyst, with applications across many industries.
As innovation analytics can be applied in so many different contexts, the next thing to consider is what those career paths look like. This is one of those career paths where it’s best to know where you want to end up well before investing too much time in these highly specified certification processes.
Innovation Analyst Job Descriptions
Innovation analytics is useful anywhere technology is significantly disrupting existing operational norms. This can range from manufacturing semiconductors to investment banking to social media to video game development. Roles tend to range from junior level analysts through the mid and senior level to executive positions such as Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
Lower-level roles require meticulous attention to detail, research ability, data collection and analysis competence, and sufficient technical knowledge to deliver accurate reports to upper management teams. Senior-level roles incorporate strategic considerations and long-term business planning, alongside strong interpersonal skills and cross-disciplinary knowledge. Management ability and extensive industry-specific experience are strong assets in this field’s upward mobility.
Once analysts know their level, they can begin the job search in earnest. A quick query of Indeed pulled up over 50,000 vacancies in innovation analytics, with 14,000 of those offering a possible remote working relationship. Typical salaries can vary fairly widely, though a good median estimate is around $95k/year for a mid-level innovation analyst. A director-level innovation professional can expect a median salary of $125k/year. A typical road to the role of innovation analyst may begin with a junior-level data analyst with a knack for tech-related topics.
Finding opportunities like these can be tricky, as technological innovation tends to be highly concentrated within specific regions. Major cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Houston, and Miami are presently hotspots for innovation-related jobs in the United States. This is because these cities are commonly home to corporate HQs. Although many of these jobs are becoming available remotely, senior-level roles that involve significant leadership often require being onsite at the corporate offices.
This leaves which companies hire innovation analysts and which industries have the greatest potential opportunity.
From FinTech to AI
While many industries and companies leverage complex technologies to produce or deliver their products and services, there are two standard arenas where assessing the potential of innovation is particularly valuable. The first one worth discussing is the emerging space of FinTech, which couples finance and technology in a myriad of ways. From smart contracts on the blockchain to the high-stakes world of investment banking, this coupling of capital and technology is an excellent target for aspiring innovation analysts.
Investment banking in the 21st century requires extensive analytics and research on an endless array of innovation prospects, many of which will fail. It’s a high-risk, high-return endeavor, justifying substantial investment into professional analysts with technological know-how who can reliably predict success or failure. Investment bankers will employ teams of analysts, many of which focus on innovation potential specifically, to prioritize where this investment capital should go (and at what scale). Professional innovation analysts at this level will likely already have extensive industry experience within the area they focus on.
The second interesting industry-specific opportunity for innovation analysts is integrating machine learning and deep learning protocols within digital products. Technology like this first evolves and matures experimentally, eventually reaching a level of usability that caters to business needs. At this point, innovation analysts begin feeling the demand from organizations, who only know of the technology’s potential in general terms. An innovation analyst fills this knowledge gap, and machine learning offers an excellent opportunity for both the analysts and the organizations they work for.
A final note on current technological opportunities for innovation experts is the blockchain, which offers a decentralized ledger of contract management and transparent transactions. While this is a complex topic, the summary for innovation analysts is that many organizations are beginning to realize the potential of integrating blockchain ecosystems within their industries. Strategically-minded business analysts who study this innovation will be well-positioned for future work opportunities.
The successful innovation analyst will contemplate these emergent technological trends within the broader context of the current global market trends, identifying ways to complement organizational competencies with these new technical capabilities. It’s a highly intellectual and rewarding line of work, best suited for the creative problem-solver who is reasonably comfortable with taking a few risks.