Jul 10 2013

Big Data’s Real Problem Is People, Not Technology

Without human resources, Big Data isn’t going anywhere.

Big Data is proving difficult to manage. The three V’s — volume, velocity and variety — create a number of issues involving storage, analytics software and privacy concerns. But those problems are easier to solve than Big Data’ biggest impediment so far: people.

Agencies, along with businesses, schools and organizations around the country, are struggling to the find human resources with the skills to leverage Big Data. A recent report from GovTech and the Center for Digital Government (PDF download) found that demand for chief data officers greatly dwarfs supply right now:

To help prioritize and organize their big data initiatives, a few agencies and jurisdictions, including the city of Philadelphia and the Federal Communications Commission, have appointed chief data officers. That’s a great goal, but there’s a catch — there simply aren’t enough people with the right skills to go around. One report estimates that the U.S. demand for big data experts across all industry segments will exceed supply by up to 190,000 by 2018.

Nearly every expert that we interviewed in support of this report discussed the huge gap — in both the private and public sectors — between data-related hiring needs and available talent. In an August 2012 survey, more than half of the government agencies polled said they were experiencing big data-related hiring difficulties. With multiple skill sets, including statistics, computer science and machine learning, data scientists and analysts will continue to be in high demand across all industries.

Who Are the Chief Data Officers of the Future?

All indicators point to a shortage of chief data officers for years to come. While CDOs will lead the charge to turn data into ideas and actions, the right candidates will need to balance tech savvy with leadership, strategy and outside-the-box thinking. Jane Griffin of Deloitte details the perfect aspirant on Information Management:

The position of the CDO does not come without its challenges. First, it takes a unique combination of skills to be a CDO. The individual can’t be too technical; that tends to create a microscopic focus on the “bits and bytes” of the data rather than on overall data strategy. However, the CDO can’t be a technical neophyte either. Effective CDO’s are those individuals who possess a balance of technical skill, business knowledge, and people skills to smoothly navigate the technical and political hurdles of shepherding valuable corporate data.

Another challenge CDO’s face is being the champion of an area that, historically, hasn’t been a front-burner topic for executive management: data strategy. The challenge lies in communicating the value of data as a crucial corporate asset and revenue generator—when it’s managed and utilized efficiently. The CDO must effectively guide the company in developing a data strategy that will enable the most effectual use of its data assets, while keeping the costs of corporate data administration within reasonable limits—i.e., the CDO must make the benefits worth the costs.

It won’t be easy to find these people, but some agencies, such as the FCC, are already figuring it out: They’ve hired a chief data officer for each of their 11 bureaus. The Army has also secured a chief data officer, as have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Who will be next?