The Rise of the Chief Analytics Officer

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Big data continues to drive conversations in the C-suite. So I’m not surprised to hear that more and more companies are establishing the role of Chief Analytics Officer.

What does this new position mean for data and analytics professionals? Will we see a shift toward unified analytics teams? And how can today’s data professional prepare for a more strategic analytics role?

Today, analytics teams are dispersed throughout the organization, often siloed in marketing, technology, sales and strategy roles. But as Bill Franks argued in the Harvard Business Review, someone needs to own a company’s analytics, especially as we toward a wider use of predictive analytics.

It’s clear there are enormous opportunities for data-intensive organizations that can harness the disparate information sets they own. At the most basic level, a CAO can organize and truly coordinate these silos, leading to better insights across the business and allowing executives to take advantage of previously unrecognized opportunities.

‘The CAO role is very much in its infancy.’

But the CAO role is very much in its infancy, and the full scope of its responsibilities is still ill-defined.

For example, consider the dynamics of the Chief Data Officer as they compare to the CAO. Gartner says that only half of companies in regulated industries will hire a Chief Data Officer by the end of 2017. The researcher describes the role as “[bearing] responsibility for the firm’s enterprise wide data and information strategy, governance, control, policy development, and effective exploitation. The CDO’s role will combine accountability and responsibility for information protection and privacy, information governance, data quality and data life cycle management, along with the exploitation of data assets to create business value.”

Some observers make a distinction between the CAO and CDO. They describe the CAO as more likely to evaluate the connections among multiple streams of data to produce business insight, while seeing the CDO as being more focused on the process of managing data. As Computerworld puts it: “Many in the data discipline see the CDO as focusing on tactical data management while the CAO concentrates on the strategic deployment of analytics.”

Indeed, the job descriptions of today’s early CAOs are focused on the monumental task of pulling together disparate data streams so they can be analyzed holistically.

Connecting the dots is a big first step toward more insightful analytics. But how will this play out for hiring, both now and in the future? Do we see more CAOs being recruited and developing teams of their own? Will this fuel growth in new analytics projects?

I’m convinced the CAO will become a common leadership position, beginning with companies that are already heavily data-driven, such as those in the retail, healthcare, technology and automotive industries.

“New project initiatives offer career opportunities for data professionals.”

I also believe CAOs will be looking for talent as they develop their own teams. They’ll need strong analytics professionals capable of solving complex problems associated with analyzing data and extracting useful intelligence. Though these teams might be small at first, they’re likely to grow along with the volume of data that needs to be analyzed and the systems that must be developed to handle it.

Analytics professionals, then, face a host of opportunities and career paths. How can they prepare themselves to capture these strategic roles?

  1. Cross-train. Get out of your comfort zone and make the leap to other departments. Stints in Marketing, Sales and Business Development will give you a deep understanding of the data each group works with.
  2. Develop business skills. Look beyond the data and learn how all the pieces of the company work together. This will sharpen your business acumen.
  3. Become familiar with predictive analytics. Seek out projects that use data to identify trends and patterns. CAOs will need experts who can use analytics to answer questions and anticipate the needs of the business.

The rise of the CAO will mean greater career opportunities for everyone involved in analytics. As more of these positions are established, more projects will be kicked off to develop centralized data systems to generate business insights and intelligence. For data professionals, this means once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to innovate and aggressively move the industry forward.

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