Does your company need a Chief Data Officer ? — or the DSK initiative

Original post dated June 2013.

With the rise of the available information drop on companies’ own servers or on the social Web, it becomes important for corporations and institutions to be able to catch up this data and take the most of it. This objective requires both processes and tools, on top of dedicated, skilled people. The first among them being a so-called Chief Data Officer, or CDO. Here’s a job description for your next hire.

Preliminary notes:

Big Data becomes a very hot topic among the web literature relate to “digital”. Most of big players step in this promising “market”, if we can use that word. Indeed, approaching Big Data from the software editor’s perspective (SAP, Microsoft) or from the digital agency’s point of view, would lead to a radically different vision on what’s possible, what’s not — what’s interesting — what’s not. What we are trying to do here is to reconcile both visions: view Big Data with the eyes of software editors while thinking about digital-oriented services. The first will encompass huge datasets from ultra-secured, long-haul mainframes gathering business-critical information such as client data, transaction logs or financial strings. The latter will mainly talk about business analytics services with a Google Analytics filter — sometimes B.I. — not more. The job description below relates to the first view, combined with dynamic, front-end services.

When it comes to CxO, we see the sequence immediately following: CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CVO, just like car acronyms. This nomenclature is imported from the United States, and is spreading in Belgium, even in tiny structures, because it is dead simple: put any letter you want between the C and the O, and you’ll get a first organizational design prototype. As soon as an enterprise component is considered as business critical, it can be promoted to a C-level position. Important things need Chiefs. Not managers: chiefs. Chief Anything Officers have their own office, secretary, human resources, even sometimes P&L. CxOs are planting clearly-defined boundaries between corporate functions. They cut out departments, verticalize accountability. And here lies what I call the “C-level Paradox”. In companies, when something is considered as business critical, it’s because it impacts the whole structure that should organize around it. When it’s critical, one should not cut it from the rest and isolate it in a vast office on highest floors. CxO is the best way to plan an expensive failure. (Sometimes, the CxO culture is understood and activated differently in agile companies, fine.) As far as data is concerned, I would suggest to rename it like this: hire your future D.S.K., standing for Data Swiss Knife.

DSK’s Job description

The DSK knows everything on everything; he is omniscient, omnipotent; he is God. — As holding a strategic position in the enterprise, the DSK must relate, coordinate and understand every aspect of the company. When it comes to Data, all aspects are impacted. That’s why the DSK reports to (1) the CEO, who’s responsible for the strategic decisions based on accurate data, (2) the COO, who’s responsible for the seamless direction of all business activities, generating and collecting data at the same time, (3) the CMO, who’s responsible for promoting the company within its environment, use data for crafting messages, and collect data from outside interactions, (4) the CIO of course, who’s responsible for deploying and maintaining the most appropriate technical infrastructure, hosting and running databases and tools, and (5) the CVO, who’s responsible for shaping the company’s future through prospective insights that are nurtured with actual data. The other way around is equally true: all CxOs report to the DSK as well, because he keeps the keys of the company’s sake in hands. Data is now considered as a business asset.

The DSK has unparalleled skills on strategy, tactics, operations, politics, code, design and coffee-making. — Big Data is not limited to databases, records, rows and columns. Those are the tangible, stored size of the deal. We got system engineers for that. The DSK analyses and decides what kind of data one must capture, process and render, and which KPIs must be monitored (this is strategy). The DSK knows what kind of actions one must put in place to fasten and facilitate capturing processes, and what kind of actions can be done with the collected data (this is tactics). The DSK understands the very theory, concepts, methodologies and tools that are actually used for that, and controls an operational planning in that purpose (this is operation). The DSK defends and promotes his role and actions among the highest corporate spheres, can feed any board decision with the right spill of data, and is able to use the data as a negotiation tool (this is politics). The DSK has ideally a technical background, but not too much (this is code). The DSK has a tremendous capability of conceiving architectures and models, with an abstraction level that makes modern artists jealous (this is design). The DSK masters all above-mentioned skills in regular business time, and can swing from one to the other without going mad (this is coffee-making).

The DSK has a very good health, and runs the local marathon each year (with or without a surrounding team). — On a single day, a standard DSK will have visited at least 5 different executive offices (CxO, see above), sometimes several times each. His most regular journey is from his office at floor 18 to the server room in the -3 basement, and back, and forth, and back. The DSK’s ultimate objective is to make data gathered, compiled, available and displayed in a shape that’s compliant with the corporate strategic KPI’s, while ensuring data integrity and security. You can’t do that staying sit behind a desk screen or phone.

The DSK is multilingual. — On top of the obvious English (because it’s a prerequisite in any job now) that will be useful to talk with major players in the Data sector, and to share insights with your colleague at the U.S. Army, local languages are a must if your company plays in the B2C markets. The DSK also talks fluently marketing, IT, legal, business and media. Knowing the language basics of finance is also an asset.

The DSK is empathic, assertive and mediator. — One of the main trends of Big Data today is the reconciliation between two hermetic worlds. Huge datasets and B.I. exist since decades, and Web analytics have evolved since the Webtrends domination around 2000. The challenge today is to build bridges between the two universes. The DSK has the capacity to lead that reconciliation, chop down the Berlin wall and make strangers talk. The DSK understands the goldmine laying inside the reunification of the two Data-Germanies, and that vision is the main fuel of his determination. Hey, the knowledge of the German language is not mandatory here.

What the job has to offer to candidates

The DSK is a key position in the organization. He drives the company’s strategic management. Wages and salary are set accordingly. No variable part is foreseen as business development and pure sales are maybe the sole bricks of the firm that are not directly impacted by the DSK’s operations, although he collects data and renders back aggregated information from/to sales. The position requires a long-term commitment as it needs to deploy a strategy on the long-run with a presupposed deep understanding of the company’s strategic positioning and way of doing and measuring business. No room for job hoppers here.

Hiring or appointing a Chief Data Officer is the sign of maturity in the understanding of the importance of data in strategic management and its value in managing operations. But, it’s maybe not the sole, or appropriate way to tackle those challenges. A valuable CDO must be a DSK, the kind of profile that is nearly impossible to find. If your company wants to take advantage of Big Data, just require some consultancy help, hire a Senior Data Analyst without management role, and first hear them both getting excited on the perspective. It will worth it.