The past several years have seen a pronounced emphasis on data and its potential for helping organizations function more effectively. From Amazon Redshift, a petabyte-scale data warehouse service in the cloud, to sexy predictive analytics solutions, data has moved to the front burner.
Organizations are able to capture everything their systems are producing, and enterprises are devoting huge budgets to collecting and storing data using a multitude of Big Data tools. The infrastructure spend is enormous. From web search click data to phone logs, people are capturing a massive amount of information.
Along with the explosion in data, a new C-level role has emerged—the chief data officer, or CDO.Gartner estimates that more than 100 CDOs currently work in mainly the financial services and government sector, while executive search firm Russell Reynolds predicts 50% of Fortune 500 companies will have a chief digital officer in place by 2015.
The CDO is focused on collection, storage, and management of data—and those in this role have laid the groundwork for a new era of discovery. However, the true value to the organization isn’t in the infrastructure. At Looker, we believe data is only strategic if it’s analyzed, understood, and actionable throughout the enterprise, so the value in all that data can be realized. We predict the CDO will evolve into a broader role: the chief analytics officer, or CAO.
The CAO aspires to help organizations leverage Big Data infrastructure, by designing curated experiences for the entire organization that map data in ways that inform business choices, and moving the power of data into the hands of business decision makers. In short, the CAO is about creating real business value through data analytics and promoting the company's data-driven culture. At Looker, we believe that within five years, the CAO will be one of the most strategic roles in any organization.
A qualified CAO has a solid grounding in overall business goals. A CAO brings together a well-rounded economics perspective, statistical expertise, computer science proficiency, and a passion for data-driven decision making. Much more than a data analyst or data scientist, the CAO considers the business as a whole, striving for the optimal balance among operational metrics. The CAO's contribution should be measured with a clear return on investment, along with actionable insights and operational improvements.
Big Data is only useful if they’re curated with focus and expertise. The CAO oversees the development of analytic metrics that establish a consistent, coherent approach to data throughout the organization and that tie analytics into all enterprise functions. As a business changes and as new types of data become available, the CAO evolves the data ecosystem to sync with business developments.
The CAO fundamentally promotes user curiosity, guiding a provisioning strategy so that data is accessible by the people who need it—in all its glorious detail and at the precise moment of decision.
It’s the CAO’s job to know:
- What kinds of data are available—or could be available
- How the data may interrelate
- How to analyze data for best business impact
- Who in the organization needs to have their hands on the data
At the same time, the CAO needs to make sure individuals understand—through training, mentoring, and the selection of well-designed, self-service tools—how to work with data skillfully.
Getting data directly into the hands of the business user has a great side benefit—it frees the data people to work on more important discoveries. It allows them to dig deeper, glean insights, find problems, identify causes, and forecast trends. The CAO makes sure that data specialists are liberated from mundane queries and reporting, creating a cadre of super-smart individuals who know the company’s data inside and out.
With data analytics models and processes in place, the CAO can move the company to the next level, by creating a culture that’s driven by curiosity, deep investigation, and collaboration around data. As opportunities or problems arise, a curiosity-driven culture looks to analytics to inform the response, so that every important decision is backed by solid data that’s clearly represented and consistently understood.
The next few years promise to be incredibly enlightening. CDOs have created the sophisticated infrastructure to harness data. It’s now time for CAOs to build out the last mile—getting this data into the hands of business users and creating economic value. The evolution from CDO to CAO signifies the shift from simply collecting data to using data to drive businesses in entirely new ways.
—Frank Bien is the CEO of Looker.