The Rise of Chief Data Officers and the Fall of Database Administrators

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Read more about author Thomas LaRock.

As we kick off the new year, it’s important to consider the unique challenges facing enterprises when it comes to managing databases. We’ve seen data and databases grow exponentially with each passing year. This added growth also brings added complexity, resulting in increased difficulty for database professionals to monitor application performance and mitigate issues as they arise. 

The volume and use cases of data continue to evolve, which impacts how enterprises operate. I expect this to come to fruition in a couple of ways: through the rise of the chief data officer and through the role of traditional database administrators (DBAs) fading into the background.

Disappearing Database Administrators 

It’s no secret that the rise of automation in recent years has been a disaster for traditional legacy DBAs. As more systems and processes are automated with code, the demand for DBAs as we knew them has changed. In response to these shifts, the traditional DBA role is evolving into something new, such as a database architect or database engineer.

DBAs used to be tactical in their role. Now, their role is more strategic, as they help advise businesses on how to manage database operations. According to a recent study, 33% of tech pro respondents ranked cloud database as a service (DBaaS) as the number one priority to adopt over the next three years. The report also found a growing number of organizations are adopting and/or considering the adoption of NoSQL and open-source databases. This is reflective of the changing nature of the legacy DBA role. 

As DBAs look to the future, they should no longer consider themselves purely operational or focused on upkeep of the data estate. Instead, as automation empowers them to take on higher-level, more proactive, and more innovative work, their role will increasingly focus on how to turn data into actionable insights capable of propelling the business. This is a huge opportunity for DBAs as their function becomes critical for business operation. 

The Rise of Chief Data Officers 

We’re also on the verge of seeing a growing number of companies outside of the traditional Fortune 500 hire chief data officers (CDOs), who will be responsible for implementing one or more Data Governance programs in the coming years. The rapid adoption of the CDO position and new emphasis on data and analytics (D&A) governance for small and medium businesses will be driven by two widespread issues.

The first is the permanent remote work and hybrid models companies are shifting toward. This has motivated companies to focus on protecting corporate data as they continue to allow access to their on-premises data for the first time from new locations, such as employees’ homes. 

The second is global data privacy legislation, such as the EU’s GDPR and California’s CCPA. These initiatives have forced the hand of many organizations to make Data Governance a priority to avoid potential punishments.

Both factors are slowly making their way up the list of concerns for leadership teams. With no one at the top whose role specifically includes these new responsibilities, bringing a CDO on board is becoming increasingly appealing. 

Organizations without the role of an official CDO will move to implement specific subsets of the Data Governance portfolio – such as corporate-wide data dictionaries – as part of enterprise movements to place a bigger emphasis on D&A governance initiatives throughout the industry. 

As organizations increasingly deploy more cloud-native and hybrid applications and databases, database professionals will need to prepare their knowledge and skillsets to manage multiple databases in diverse environments. Though we’ll see the roles outlined above continue to evolve, data will continue to be the lifeblood of businesses, and enterprises should remain focused on strengthening data quality and protecting it. 

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