Statistical Data Analysis

Can Data Scientists and Chief Data Officers Benefit the Business?

New job titles are always going to result in a certain amount of apprehension, confusion and sometimes rejection when they are first introduced into an organisation. It’s not unusual for people to question the necessity of them, how they will affect the business and, ultimately, the impact it will have on themselves.

The roles of data scientist and chief data officer (CDO) are two job titles that have started to be prevalent across businesses, following the growing Big Data trend. That businesses feel there is a requirement to create special jobs in line with the phenomenon  may not come as a surprise, but let’s take a step back and explore exactly why these roles are being created, what they constitute and how they are affecting the way organisations are run.

One might argue that managers of organisations have no choice. After all, to remain competitive, they have to find ground-breaking ways to exploit their data and gain valuable commercial insights from that information. If a business isn’t doing this, they can be sure that their competitors will be. On top of this, the growing emphasis on data-driven decision making has led to a number of organisations establishing and defining roles for the ownership, management and analysis of data within their businesses.

Traditionally, data management and responsibility for making use of it has been seen as part of the remit of the IT team, but since that information is being used in the wider business sense, organisations are increasingly looking beyond IT to get value from their data.

This is where the CDOs come in: they’re being hired to oversee the organisation’s overarching data strategy, ensuring information is utilised and managed effectively across the business. They are responsible for anything data-related, whether that’s the delivery of collective platforms, the defining of data policies or ensuring best-in-class data governance. This role is particularly important in industries that are heavily regulated, such as financial services or pharmaceuticals.

The CDO is also accountable for educating the rest of the organisation about the ways data can be used strategically to drive revenues for the business. Given the far-reaching scope of this role, CDOs must regularly engage and collaborate with other C-suite executives.

By comparison, a data scientist is responsible for data exploration, analysis and modelling. They are tasked with analysing data to make discoveries and find hidden insights. These can then be used to solve business challenges and provide companies with a competitive advantage. To do this well, it’s important that a data scientist is an exceptional storyteller, can articulate their counsel and show business empathy.

As we see more businesses harnessing their data and trying to take advantage of analytics, we’re hearing claims that they are suffering from a lack of specialist skills in this area. There is increasing concern, therefore, about the lack of people with these titles – CDOs and data scientists – who apparently hold the keys to unlocking the true business potential of data.

However, I’d argue that a big mistake is being made here. Data is not only for data scientists to explore and for CDOs to manage. Capable business users can also be proactive with data if they have the right tools to help them do so. These tools should be intuitive and accessible and encourage exploration through analytics.

After all, business users have a massive advantage over CDOs and data scientists. Business users are in the position to understand data within the context of what is happening within the commercial operation. They know the implications of the patterns, exceptions and associations they explore. By equipping all employees with easy to use, exploratory technology there shouldn’t be any reason why organisations cannot or should not empower savvy employees to spot opportunities, anomalies and areas for business growth. Giving access to data to anyone who wants it from across the business is something that a good CDO should be encouraging as it will only help to make the insights gained more valuable and relevant. This, in turn, will complement and strengthen the theoretical discipline that data scientists apply to their analysis.

There is little doubt that in today’s business climate, organisations must establish data roles and responsibilities. It’s all very well to introduce new roles in the business to help the organisation get the most out of the sheer volume of data they have, but it’s equally as crucial that a conversation is had around the data with the wider business. By empowering all employees and nurturing data enthusiasts with intuitive, effective platforms and applications, businesses may gain more than they could ever realise by looking beyond one sole data employee to make a good decision.


Sean has been MD UK & Ireland and Regional Vice President for Northern Europe for Qlik since July 2009. He has over 19 years’ experience in the business software industry, 15 of those in business intelligence. Prior to Qlik, Sean was Regional Vice President and General Manager, UK, Ireland and South Africa for SAP Business Objects.


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