We’re reminded daily about the increasing role that Artificial Intelligence plays in business, the collection of data recognised as a critical tool to ensure competitiveness and real-time responses to customer needs. And companies have been on the hunt for data scientists to develop and manage these AI models, leading to a sharp increase in demand and the labelling of the job as “the sexiest of the 21st century”.

What hasn’t been understood, though, is that there is a missing link in the process. One that is essential to ensure real ROI in these data-driven business models. The role of the “translator”.

What is a translator?

Translators are neither data scientists, architects, nor data engineers. They’re not even necessarily dedicated analytics professionals and typically need to possess deep technical expertise in programming or modelling. Translators are usually subject-matter experts from within the organisation who bridge the gap between the technical teams and their data-driven approaches, developing insights into actionable changes that impact the organisation.

Why are they important?

Translators are critical to effectively deploying data resources, ensuring that the data science teams are properly briefed and that models are developed that provide critical information that can be turned into a competitive advantage. According to McKinsey, at the beginning of any analytics initiative, the translators are needed to draw on their specialist area knowledge, help business leaders to identify and then prioritise their organisational problems (and opportunities) to ensure that initiatives create the highest value when solved or operationalised.

Once determined, translators tap into their working experience and knowledge of AI and data analytics to quantify the business goals to the data professionals who will create the models and solutions. And once data is collected, the translator ensures that the insights developed can be interpreted, communicated and acted on within the broader business.

As AI becomes more entrenched within organisations, translators are finding their way into permanent roles within the organisational structure. How this looks varies for those who are part of the strategy team or within a dedicated centre of excellence or business optimisation business unit.

What skills do translators need?

Given the wide range of responsibilities – as a communicator, project manager, subject-matter expert and driver – an effective translator is an individual who has the following essential skills:

Domain (subject-matter) Expertise

Translators must be experts in both their industry and their company to identify and tap into the value of analytics within the business context. They should understand the key operational metrics of the business and how these impact profit or loss, revenue and customer retention.

Technical fluency

Whilst they are not expected to have the technical skills to build analytical models, they should possess a strong technical understanding of problem-solving tools, including quantitative models. Typically, translators have strong STEM knowledge and skills, many coming from engineering/mathematical academic backgrounds.

Project Management Skills

Translators should be able to direct the analytics project from ideation through production and adoption with a clear understanding of the project lifecycle and common pitfalls. Marshalling the troops by driving timelines, ensuring collaboration and management of resources is also essential.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

An entrepreneurial mindset defined by commitment, enthusiasm and business savvy is critical to navigating the many technical, organisational and political roadblocks that might emerge during the initiative.

Translators bring these unique skill sets to help businesses drive growth and ensure ROI for their AI initiatives. They’re instrumental in identifying from the myriad possible opportunities that are the right ones to pursue and invest in. Further, they’re key to bringing the various participants together, translator business need to tech-speak and back again.

Our clients are increasingly looking for individuals who possess these skills and can transition from their subject matter and industry expertise into the quintessential translator. If you believe you have what it takes, we’d be delighted to have a coffee conversation with you. Contact me at theo@tsrecruitment.co.za.