Who Handles all this Big Data, Anyway?

Four or five years ago, the term Big Data was foreign and nebulous. Today the majority of business and Fortune 1000 companies rely on using large amounts of data and statistics to increase productivity, efficiency and profits. Welcome to the era of Big Data. This transition into a business world consumed with Big Data hasn’t come without its challenges, though.

One of the biggest issues companies face with using Big Data effectively is figuring out how to implement massive amounts of information and who exactly should be in charge of all this data. The technology needed to decipher, analyze and implement hundreds of thousands of data sets is there. The professionals entering the work force today are capable of handling this much data, and businesses’ software capabilities are more than sufficient. The real issue emerges when we ask the question, “Who is in charge of managing all this data?” Excellent question, and too many businesses don’t have a good answer for it. However, some do, and that person is often called the CDO: Chief Data Officer.

The last five years has seen an enormous increase in the number of CDOs, rising from 12% of firms in 2012 to 54% this year. The Chief Data Officer has become the point person for all things Big Data. This person manages and analyzes data for a business and then figures out how to make that data work for the business. The CDO leverages the data so businesses can improve forecasting, optimize research and development efforts, and ultimately compete well in a global setting. IBM released an infographic in 2014 describing the emergence of CDOs and what makes them different than other chief executives.

 Figure 1. CDO infographic from IBM.
Figure 1. CDO infographic from IBM.

While a 42% jump in number of CDOs in businesses is substantial, there’s still noticeable room for improvement in the adoption of this or a similar role in many large corporations. The implementation of a CDO is just the beginning of addressing the staffing issues associate with Big Data. Efficient handling of Big Data requires more than just a CDO; it requires a workplace mentality shift. Companies employing Big Data analytics need to accept that the business world is changing, and with changes in business, a change in mentality and structure is also necessary. The effective use of Big Data analytics might require a reorganization of management, adoption of new software or learning to look a data as a way to make predictions instead of simply analyzing past scenarios. This change in business culture can start with the introduction of a CDO but can’t be successful until entire companies – not individuals – learn to appreciate the importance of using Big Data to its fullest extent.

Time will tell what these cultural changes and mentality shifts actually look like. Many signs indicate that many businesses need to think about reorganizing their organization charts. Businesses also have to start thinking differently, more creatively in order to utilize all Big Data has to offer. This creative thinking could lead to new ways of measuring success. Success might change from a single dollar amount to how accurate a prediction was thanks to Big Data. Regardless of the details of these changes, you can rest assured that Big Data is here, and slowly but surely, we’re learning how we can make it work for us.

Rebecca Seasholtz

Rebecca is a senior Materials Science and Engineering major at Georgia Tech. She specializes in soft materials (i.e. plastics and textiles) and has also worked extensively with functional materials for electrical applications. Rebecca is originally from Grayson, GA and likes to spend her free time running, cycling, drinking coffee, or hanging around the campus house of a ministry she attends at Georgia Tech. Contact Rebecca at [email protected]