You hear a lot about big data architects and data scientists but there is one role that doesn’t get a lot of press and that is the data strategist. As we develop big data, we will need new roles because the old roles just don’t work with all the moving parts. You could hire an army of people but really you just need a few smart people. On the business side, there is what I call the data strategist.
What is a data strategist? Quite simply it is the person who is the business owner of the big data space at a company. From my experience, IT is really great at what IT does. So you have IT architects who can put together a hadoop cluster and have it up and running smoothly. And you have data scientists who can analyze the data and write the algorithms. But the type of people who fill these roles don’t have their eye on the customer experience or the running of the business like a business manager would. That’s where the data strategist comes into play. This person is the business person on the team.
The data strategist is the role I fill. My job is to manage the space like I am growing a company with in a company or a market. Big data is a growing function in a lot of companies and someone needs to understand how to grow it so that it adds value to the customer experience and the business’s bottom line. Data scientists and IT architects, don’t often do this. But a data strategist does. In fact that is what the data strategist needs to be the most grounded in.
I think a good data strategist is someone with an MBA who understands the business side of the equation yet knows the technology and analytics well enough to know what the IT and the data scientist are doing and the tools they are using. In essence, a data strategist can speak the language of IT and analytics. Now being able to write an algorithm in Mahout would be nice but not required. I don’t write the algorithms, but I know what Mahout is and how to use it to grow the business. I also happen to know R and have spent a few years of my career in analytics. I know the difference between REST and SOAP (I know the IT guys think this is basic but trust me, most of the business people reading this have no clue what I just wrote). I also know how to code in some language and those languages that I don’t know how to code in, I know what they can do and what their limits are as well as understanding the tools IT is using and why they are being used from both a business and IT perspective. This person needs to be well rounded in finance, marketing, leadership and other areas of the business. Essentially acting as a business owner for data.
The reason why this is important to have is because I have seen with many companies I talk to that, unless you have this business person in place, IT will build a great system that nobody knows really how to use. IT can come up with a few use cases, but IT is not often of a business mind set, you need someone who is to show everyone else, how to make the data actionable. Also, data scientist are great at analyzing information, but first, they need to be given the direction on what is important and also if you are in a big company, you need someone to go out and get that information for the scientist. That’s the main reason for such a role, to make the data actionable for the business.
I have seen programs lead by IT around big data and without a good business person on the team, often the big data projects end up being a big waste of money. The problem we have right now is, if you think finding a good data scientist or a good IT lead who knows hadoop is hard, a data strategist is even harder to find. It’s like you can just hire some MBA and throw them in and expect them to know what they are doing. Ideally, you need someone who does have the analysis and IT exposure but has a solid foundation in business. That’s not a lot of people and universities are not producing such people.
Although there may not currently be many of us out there, the role is a critical one for the future of any big data project.