Do you need a data scientist or a chief data officer? posted on Tue, July 10 2012

There’s an interesting debate going on about the shortage of data scientists. According to several sources there are currently over 10,000 data scientist positions waiting to be filled. Others argue that we don’t need the scientists just yet, but should invest in hiring chief data officers first.

InformationWeek’s recent salary survey shows that a shortage skill is looming. 83 per cent of respondents foresee an increase, in the next five years, in the number of data scientists needed because of the expansion of new technologies and expectations with unstructured data. 63 per cent say the need for data scientists will outpace the current talent supply. All of that is great news for people who own the right skills now. But bad news for the companies that want to invest in big data and hire these rare resources. Data scientists are the new rock stars, and they come with a price tag.

Both universities and vendors are building learning programs to get IT professionals up to speed to become a data scientist. Data scientists now have their own conferences and social events, so that they get to know all the job opportunities and can get the best price for their skills.

To some critics, this is like putting the cart before the horse: you need to structure your data first, before you can analyze it. In their view, it’s not the data scientist that needs to come first, but the ‘chief data officer (CDO)’. Unlike the chief information officer and the chief technology officer who are concerned with the technological infrastructure of an organization, the CDO is focused on the quality, management, governance and availability of data. A CDO should oversee an array of IT responsibilities, including data integration, data management, business intelligence, predictive analytics, data standards, data governance, etc. In most organizations, data is distributed over different departments, and the task of a CDO is to pull all of this data together and make sure it is  ready for analysis. Above all, the CDO can help data scientists to steer their analysis in the right direction. As columnist Ifran Khan argues: “Without a CDO taking the lead, data scientists may discover that they have joined an enterprise that has leapt onto the big data bandwagon without having a clue where it's going.”

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