Industry Insights

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Data and Numeracy in the C-Suite are Not Fads

August 11, 2014

The conversation around Big Data has mostly shifted from “what is it?” to “how do we handle it?” and with this shift there has been much excitement around data scientists. But while data scientists are adept at many things, a large enterprise hoping to truly capitalize on the value in their data needs more than a team of brilliant data scientists – it needs a strategic leader capable of governing and managing the data, with the authority to enact strategy across departments.


At some organizations this has involved appointing a Chief Data Officer, and many more have appointed a senior leadership position with the same focus – but without elevating the role to the C-suite. Although the individual may not be called a CDO, it is more about the scope of responsibility than the title itself. Someone in the organization has to be ultimately responsible for the data.

Although many have been quick to brush this latest addition to the C-suite as just another fad, David Linthicum addresses this skepticism aptly when he writes:

“I’m not a big fan of creating positions around trends in technology. Back in the day, we had the chief object officer, chief PC officer, chief Web officers, you name it. However, data is not a trend. It’s systemic to what a business is, and thus the focus on managing it better, and centrally, is a positive step.”

Data is not a fad. In fact, data is exponentially increasing every day, hour, and second of the day, for every business. This means many things: increasing data management challenges, increasing opportunities to better understand customers, increasing privacy concerns, increasing advantages for marketing, and much more. Of the many uncertainties surrounding Big Data, its existence now (I’m referring to the data itself, not the buzzword) and going forward should not be one of them. When the conversation surrounding Big Data dies down, it will most likely be because massive data has become the new normal, not because it has disappeared.


I was invited by Peter Anlyan to speak as a panelist at MIT’s Chief Data Officer and Information Quality Symposium (CDOIQ) in July, discussing how the industry is bridging the talent gap in analytics and data science. As we in the industry are all well aware, there is more focus than ever before on quantitative professionals, but the shortage of qualified analytics professionals and data scientists has made hiring a significant challenge for many companies.

The talent shortage is great enough, in fact, that some company representatives at the symposium expressed concern about sending their teams to Master’s programs for deeper training, lest they be poached away, defeating the investment of time and resources. While high attrition may be a frustrating symptom of the times, I’m not sure they have a choice.

Luckily, the increase in MOOC’s (Massive Online Open Courses) and various bootcamps across the country could offer an alternative to companies not willing to risk investing in a time and money into a full-fledged Master’s program. The efficacy of those methods however, depends on the strength of the program as well as the learning style of the individual, as Irmak Sirer of Datascope Analytics noted in his guest post last week.

Having just read Karen O’Leonard’s report from Deloitte, Show Me the Money: How to Secure Funding for Your Talent Analytics Case I was also eager to hear her thoughts on HR and talent analytics at CDOIQ, as well as attend some of the other events to hear more about the development of the Chief Data Officer position. You can read more about Karen’s thoughts from CDOIQ here, and Gregory Piatetsky of kdnuggets also had some good insights from the symposium.

The Future of the C-Suite

My thoughts on the longevity of the CDO role are that the responsibilities are the important part, not the title. Gartner predicts that by 2015, 25% of large global organizations will have appointed Chief Data Officers, so it will be interesting to see if that holds true. If we’re predicting the future in C-Level hires though, perhaps it’s time for a Chief Analytics Officer to throw their hat in the ring?