By Dave Hannon
I learned about self-proclaimed data geeks long before I knew what an ERP system was or what SAP did. In the early days of the Microsoft Office, when I'd ask certain friends how to perform a specific function in Excel, instead of getting a sigh, I'd see a light in their eyes. They'd get into it. In fact, at a former job, I was tasked with doing things in Excel that were well above my knowledge level and I'd email a certain group of friends with a question and they'd actually COMPETE to see who could not only come up with the solution, but describe it in a way that I -- a non-data geek -- could understand. And only one of these friends was actually working in a data-related role at the time. Yeah, I got the memo on the value of data geeks early.
But in my [coughs loudly] years as a B2B editor interviewing C-level executives across a number of industries, I rarely heard or saw that kind of enthusiasm or excitement about data or analytics. There just weren't many "data geeks" (again, your term, not mine) in the C-suite.
But that trend is definitely changing. More C-suiters are getting the memo that data and analytics hold keys to business improvement and companies are looking for data geeks at all levels. Accenture reported survey results last week that found "66% of responding companies have appointed senior figures (e.g. chief data officers) in the last 18 months to lead data-management strategies and policies, as well as to support business growth."
“Analytics remains the new kid on the block, but is clearly moving on the C-suite agenda,” said Narendra Mulani, senior managing director, Accenture Analytics.
And while some might say Accenture's 66% figure is a bit optimistic, a Gartner analyst recently predicted that 50% of large organizations would have a chief data officer in the next three years. Why? "Most CIOs are so much consumed with technology that they have forgotten their title has 'information' in it," said Douglas Laney of Gartner in a recent speech. "They are very much fixated on the technology side of things."
Data geeks your time has come! It's time to let your geek flag fly. The keys to the executive washroom are yours. It's time to trade in the Corolla for a Volvo.
Need more proof? A real-world example? Just last week China's Alibaba named Jonathan Lu Xaoxi as its new CEO. His background? Yup, data geek. His current role includes serving as the e-commerce giant's chief data officer (and by the way, he's 43 years old).
What's that you say? You're not really looking to live the C-suite lifestyle but you're a data geek with a mortgage to pay? Well, the demand for data and analytics talent has put you in the employment equivalent of the catbird seat. According to Robert Half Technology, starting salaries for you data geeks are in the six-figure range.
I hope to meet a few of you out at BI 2013 next week and pick your brains about how we journalists can get in on this party! Actually, that's no joke--there's a role for data geeks in my field, as this Guardian web site highlights. I don't see "data-savvy journalist" on that list of six-figure starting salaries though.