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Nick Millman
Nick Millman
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The Data-Driven Workforce: 5 Critical Roles

To stay competitive, companies must maintain a data-savvy workforce. Here are some key roles to fill.

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Data is the lifeblood of digital organizations. I've seen a European retail bank generate an average 500% sales increase from its marketing campaigns, for example, by segmenting the customer base and using advanced analytics to determine which products to offer to each segment. To find and unlock this kind of data-driven competitive advantage, however, business leaders need to develop a more data-savvy workforce.

We're starting to see a transition to a more data-oriented workforce, in which existing roles take on a revived importance and new roles have arisen from the need to manage and fully exploit data.

Here are five key roles to develop as you strive to build a data-driven organization:

Chief Data Officer: The chief data officer is becoming increasingly important as companies treat data more as an enterprise asset. In fact, according to our research at Accenture, two thirds of organizations have appointed a senior figure such as a chief data officer to lead data management and analytics for their business.

[Yes, mere IT mortals can break into big data. Here's how: Big Data Job Hunting: Unconventional Advice.]

Data Steward: Data stewards maintain the quality, availability, and security of data and seek to improve collection and presentation of data across the business.

Data Scientist: Data scientists build analytical models and algorithms. This role has been named "the sexiest job of the 21st century" by Harvard Business Review, yet it is increasingly difficult to hire.

Analytic Champion: Analytic champions lead analytical initiatives, generally from the business owner position. They understand the value behind insight, and they challenge IT to expose more data for analysis.

Business users: Business users make up approximately 70% to 80% of the workforce. They put the results of analytical models to work and actively push IT and data communities for more.

Recognizing that not all organizations have analytics talent readily available, here are a few recommendations for building up these capabilities:

  • Take a team approach. Create a team of people who may individually lack the full skillset of a data scientist. As a group, they may bring all the talent needed.
  • Widen the recruiting pool. Search outside your industry, and even outside the business world. For instance, graphic designers often offer creativity and an imaginative view on data visualization.
  • Focus on team learning. It's essential to encourage members to learn skills from other team members. When one member is unavailable, others can jump in to help, which creates a unit that is more resistant to attrition.
  • Consider a "buy versus build" approach. Explore potential skills services that could be purchased from a third party.

Next step: better questions, better technology
Having the right people and roles isn't enough. To seek out innovation, all roles within a company -- from data stewards to business users -- must become savvy interrogators of data.

Companies can't be satisfied wrestling with a perplexed "What happened?" Rather, they must insist on getting to higher-level questions -- "Why and how did it happen?" -- to identify opportunities for growth.

Trying to meet today's business technology needs with yesterday's IT organizational structure is like driving a Model T at the Indy 500. Time for a reset. Read our Transformative CIOs Organize For Success report today. (Free registration required.)

During 20 years with Accenture,  Nick Millman has accumulated extensive experience designing and implementing data and analytics solutions for leading organizations across industries. Nick has led all stages of data and analytics delivery including strategy and ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
6/18/2014 | 8:44:20 AM
Re: roles
@Chris: I think data custodian is just a fancy name for people who have tradionally been involved with information security policies of the company. Their job description does not change much even though the importance of data and its usefulness has increased. I think they play a more technical or functional role in the organization rather than a strategic role.
User Rank: Ninja
6/18/2014 | 7:13:06 AM
Data-driven mindset
I think what the organization as a whole needs is a data-driven mindset where the role of dealing with data and knowing its importance is not restricted to these people only. Everyone in the organization should understand the value of data and ensure that they play their part in the accurate collection of data and protecting its integrity.
User Rank: Moderator
6/17/2014 | 10:55:21 PM
Re: roles
We all do love to work at places where we can hold cool titles. It helps you awe your friends and impress people in a party. 50 years ago there were few ttiles and they stayed for ever. Now, titles change very rapidly. I hope cooler titles will pop-up in future to attract more geeks! 

User Rank: Author
6/16/2014 | 3:45:30 PM
Re: roles
My hunch -- I'd be interested to hear what Nick thinks -- is that these are more about a function than a job title. Meaning, you need someone (or a team of people, the article notes) whos serves the function of looking after data.  
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
6/16/2014 | 1:16:16 PM
Data: Everyone's responsibility
Business users are the most important part of a data-driven workforce. They will need a data chief/steward/captain to lean on for analytics tips and how to best use data visualization tools, but the whole company needs to be on the data analytics train for it to matter. A CDO can take on a big leadership role in spreading the word.
User Rank: Ninja
6/16/2014 | 12:56:34 PM
I'm not sure that I find the "data steward" title so appealing. Perhaps that person can be called the "data navigator," or, to take a further leap into nautical titles, the "data captain." 
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