New Rules, New Roles – Data Management Job Titles in Transition

by Tony Shaw

There has never been a better time in the entire history of the business world to possess “data skills.” Unlike so many other professions right now, including many in IT, folks in data management have the luxury of unparalleled opportunity. Mainstream management journals including Forbes, the Economist, and Harvard Business Review are falling all over themselves proclaiming data jobs as “sexy.”  Even hardcore data geeks would admit this is pretty unusual.

So what’s going on?  If you look at the landscape from sufficient altitude, it’s pretty simple – there are two major business trends going on and, they are both data-dependent. One is the post-GFC (global financial crisis) hangover, which has created the need for increasing corporate accountability. We’ll call this the “governance” trend.  It’s led by the banking sector, and highly regulated industries such as health care, utilities and insurance, but is pulling most others along with it.  The other is the “restructuring” trend, enabled by the economics of new technologies which are disrupting the competitive landscape and creating new opportunity in most industries.

Data Scientist” is the role that was described as sexy, but there are other new job titles catching on fast, like Chief Data Officer (CDO) and Big Data Architect.  But what exactly are these jobs, and what responsibilities go along with them? How do you get one of these positions?  Admittedly they are new fields, so it’s not surprising they are still searching for definition, but in the conversations I’ve had recently I find the disparity in expectations quite dramatic.  If you ask 10 people you’ll likely get 10 different answers.  And in many cases, compared to a generation ago, the words are the same but the semantics are quite different. For example, a Data Analyst today is much more likely to be an industry subject matter expert who uses statistics and reports to support business recommendations, than its historical focus within the application development function, alongside a business or systems analyst.

You might say “so what?”  Why get hung up on titles?  But the reason to care doesn’t have much to do with egos, but instead is more about the structures and bureaucracies of large organizations. They have recruitment and pay policies which have to be related to generally accepted market practices and benchmarks.  They have regulated hiring practices that require standard job descriptions and definable qualifications, so that HR departments can compare and rank candidates.  But these new data management roles are so new there are often no benchmarks with which to work. And then there’s the general push towards outsourcing and off-shoring. Most of these jobs are strongly business-driven, and need to stay close to the business, but if they get lumped-in with commodified “technical” jobs then there’s going to be pressure to push them out of the organization.

All of this will evolve of course, and hopefully sooner rather than later, but for right now I’m going to take a stab at providing some clarification. In my next few posts I’ll be trying to explain emerging roles such as:

  • Chief Data Officer
  • Data Scientist
  • Data Governance Manager
  • Big Data Architect
  • Data Stewards (not so much “new” as “newly critical”)

My objective will be to:

  • Help you identify the new professional opportunities that are opening up to people with your knowledge and experience.
  • Keep you well informed of the skills required to fully exploit these new opportunities.
  • Help you contribute more to your organization and make you more valuable to your employer.
  • Provide you with a preview of things to come – job functions that may take shape in the future.

I’d like to invite you to contribute actively to this discussion over the next few days and weeks.  I’ll try to get the conversation started, and provide our resources at DATAVERSITY as a focal point for you to contribute. Indeed some of our upcoming webinars will be dealing with these topics, as well as numerous of the sessions at Enterprise Data World coming up in San Diego at the end of April. But there are other efforts going on which deserve mention and support also. The Data Governance Professionals Organization  (DGPO) is starting a working group to define the skills of data governance professionals. DAMA International President Dr. Peter Aiken has spoken frequently in recent months about the growing need for the “top data executive” and has started to define the qualifications necessary to do that job. And at the recent Data Governance Winter Conference, there was a lot of discussion on how to define the role of Data Stewardship, and especially what it takes to find and hire great stewards. Most organizations are struggling to fill the open positions they have in all of these critical business areas, so hopefully we can combine forces to come up with some answers for everyone to benefit from.

Please leave your suggestions for the job titles and roles you’d like us to discuss, and contribute any source materials you may have (job descriptions, defined skill sets, recruitment ads, etc) in the comments section below. If you’re willing to share but concerned about publicity, you may email me in confidence at tony@dataversity.net.

PS: As the founder and CEO of DATAVERSITY, I’m always looking to learn about the newest data-centric technologies, understand the latest buzzwords, and sort out the long-term trends from temporary fads. So, after many requests to blog on a regular basis from my colleague and Editor Shannon Kempe, who is one of the most persistent people in my life (in a good way), I’ll be sharing my observations with you about the field of data management and the industry that is growing around it. If there’s a topic you’d like me to tackle, feel free to let me know.

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