The shape of analytics certification

Update on INFORMS’ efforts to establish an analytics certification program.


“The revolutionaries who have driven most recent innovation and who will drive nearly all of it in the future are “T-shaped.” That is, they have their specialties – areas of deep expertise – but on top of that they boast a solid breadth, an umbrella if you will, of wide-ranging knowledge and interests.”
– Nicholas Donofrio, retired VP of Innovation and Technology, IBM

By Scott Nestler, Jack Levis, Bill Klimack and Michael Rappa

INFORMS members may be generally aware of ongoing efforts to establish a certification for analytics professionals. In an interview with OR/MS Today Editor Peter Horner in the December 2011 issue, INFORMS President Terry Harrison discussed analytics, one of INFORMS’ strategic directions in general and the related certification thrust more specifically [1]. Following is a brief summary of what he shared regarding the development of what will be known as the “certified analytics professional” (CAP) program:

  • INFORMS plans to start offering an analytics certification within two years.
  • Existing certifications that touch on the analytics domain are vendor specific.
  • INFORMS will be the first professional society to offer one specifically aimed at analytics.
  • By moving quickly, INFORMS has an opportunity to become recognized as the professional society that sets industry standards for analytics professionals.
  • INFORMS has assembled a group of subject-matter experts to define the boundaries of the body of knowledge a candidate must know about analytics.
  • The certification will consist of a standardized test, as well as a review of the candidate’s resume or work portfolio.
  • Successful completion of the certification will enable analytics professionals (and their employers) to have confidence that a person will bring a core set of analytics skills to a project team.
  • The market value of the CAP is expected to increase over time, as the demand for analytics professionals grows.
  • The success of CAP will open the possibility of adding additional advanced-level certificates, or those that focus on specialized domains with analytics (e.g., optimization, data visualization, predictive or prescriptive analytics, etc.).

In August 2011, the INFORMS Board of Directors established the INFORMS Credentialing Task Force, composed of nine members (including four members of the INFORMS Board of Directors), plus several ex-officio members from the INFORMS staff and consultants (see box). This group met at INFORMS headquarters in late September 2011 to begin development of key components of the certification plan, including: vision and mission statements, goals, values, governing body composition, assessment process, fees, etc. The results of this meeting were presented as a formal business plan that was approved by the INFORMS Board of Directors at the Annual Meeting in Charlotte, N.C., in November 2011.

In its role as the interim governing body, the INFORMS Certification Task Force selected 14 subject matter experts (see accompanying story) to serve as the INFORMS Analytics Credentialing Job Task Analysis Working Group. Criteria considered included: people who are highly regarded in their field; diversity in geography, sector (public-private), organization type (i.e., large companies-smaller consulting firms, practice-academia, etc.) and application area (e.g., finance, logistics, software, consumer goods, etc.); and representation of the descriptive, predictive and prescriptive segments of analytics. Of note, the Working Group contains four members in common with the Task Force and two INFORMS directors. Additionally, since CAP is designed to attract analytics professionals who are not currently members of INFORMS, the Working Group contains some non-members.

Erudition, Visualized

Certification fig 1

Figure 1: “I-shaped” vs. “T-shaped” knowledge. The vertical bar represents depth of knowledge in a particular area, while the horizontal bar on the “T” stands for a breadth of knowledge.

The opening quote of this article by Nicholas Donofrio is from a Kaufmann Foundation essay titled “Innovation That Matters.” One of Donofrio’s main points is that, when tackling a problem, instead of focusing on more computing power, storage or speed, “T-shaped” innovators look around and see what is missing instead of simply assuming the answer is more of the same, as is the case for those who are narrowly focused, or “I-shaped.” Figure 1 illustrates the difference.

In effect, a “T-shaped” person is erudite, or has both knowledge over a broad range of subjects and depth in some area. Another use of the letter “T,” beyond being the most commonly used consonant in the English language, is to serve as a metaphor for the shape of erudition. Donofrio also points out that:

“I-shaped” people have great credentials, great educations and deep knowledge – deep but narrow. The geniuses who win Nobel prizes are ‘I-shaped,’ as are most of the best engineers and scientists. … It is the ability to work in an interdisciplinary fashion and to see how different ideas, sectors, people and markets connect. ... But even the most brilliant ‘T’ will find it difficult, and perhaps impossible, to innovate entirely on his or her own. There are so many variables in our infinitely complex and diverse world that even the best-read, most up-to-date and most knowledgeable ‘T’ can’t possibly know even a fraction of what it is useful to know.”

It is within this context that the INFORMS Analytics Certification Job Task Analysis Working Group, in a two-day meeting, discussed the shape of knowledge to be covered by the CAP certification.

Knowledge: Breadth vs. Depth

In “Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning,” Thomas H. Davenport identified three types of analysts: 1. analytical amateurs (i.e., can use spreadsheets); 2. analytical semi-professionals (i.e., can use visual tools and create simple models); and 3. analytical professionals (i.e., can create algorithms). The definitions in parentheses are Davenport’s, not ours. While some might take issue with one or more of these descriptions, they may help in considering what should be assessed by the CAP certification.

The Working Group considered a variety of options. Should the CAP assessment cover knowledge that looks like the capital letter “T,” testing both depth and breadth components? While this might be ideal, the Working Group determined that the vertical bar representing depth in some area (e.g., optimization, data mining, simulation, stochastic processes, decision analysis, etc.) is too much to expect from all analytics professionals targeted by the CAP, many of whom are not currently INFORMS members. So, the initial certification will assess across the breadth of knowledge needed in analytics; evaluation of more detailed knowledge can be done later in “add-on” certifications, pending the successful development and deployment of CAP.

However, the Working Group also wants to ensure that CAP does include some level of depth across the broad range of tasks performed and knowledge required by analytics professionals. For this reason, CAP will be appropriate for the analytical semi-professionals in Figure 2(b), as well as the “T-shaped” and “Pi-shaped” analytical professionals, as indicated in Figures 2(d) and 2(e), respectively. However, it will not be a suitable certification for the “analytical amateurs” represented by Figure 2(a), or the “I-shaped” analytical professionals in Figure 2(c).

Certification fig 2

Figure 2: Possible shapes of analytics knowledge.

Input Wanted

The shape of analytics certification is just one of the issues that the INFORMS Analytics Certification Job Task Analysis Working Group, with guidance from the INFORMS Certification Task Force, is currently wrestling with. The development of the CAP certification program is moving forward, but very little is set in stone at this point. Numerous opportunities exist for those inside INFORMS, as well as those working in analytics who are not INFORMS members, to provide input to the program’s development. In the near term, if you receive a survey about the proposed CAP body of knowledge, please give it some consideration and respond candidly. This is a chance for you to help form the CAP program and also help define what analytics means to INFORMS in a broader sense.

Scott Nestler ( is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and an assistant professor in the Operations Research Department at the Naval Postgraduate School. Jack Levis is the director of Process Management at UPS and the INFORMS VP for Practice Activities. Bill Klimack is a consultant at Strategic Decision Analytics and the INFORMS VP for Meetings. Michael Rappa is director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics, North Carolina State University. All four are members of both the INFORMS Certification Task Force and the INFORMS Analytics Certification Job Task Analysis Working Group.


  1. Donofrio, N., “Innovation that Matters,” Kaufmann Foundation Essay,
  2. Horner, P. “The State of INFORMS,” an interview with Terry Harrison, OR/MS Today, December 2011, p. 34-40.
  3. Davenport, T. “Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning,” 2007.