Are you a (data) carnivore?

David Reed, director of research and editor-in-chief, DataIQ

“It’s good to allow a little chaos. In times of chaos, carnivores thrive.” It’s not a viewpoint you usually hear expressed by the data and analytics community about how to achieve higher status and political power within an organisation. 

Yet this was in composite form what two senior practitioners gave as their strategy to thrive during a recent DataIQ Leaders roundtable on the ideal data organisation. In both cases, disruption in the C-suite - departure of the CEO, arrival of a new CIO, etc - was creating something of a power vacuum which they had recognised as a significant opportunity.

We all know that leaders of business functions will jostle for power during a regime change, it’s just that the data and analytics department is new to the game and is not known for manoeuvering. Not yet known for it is perhaps more accurate.

But why shouldn’t this be a centre in which individuals get to exert their power, just as much as it is a centre of excellence? After all, data and analytics are major drivers of value in business right now. Practitioners are solving some of the toughest challenges, from optimising manufacturing processes to reducing costs in the supply chain via customer behavioural adjustment. Applying some of this thinking to gaining professional status, success and support is just as likely to pay off.

So what is involved in being a carnivore during times of chaos? The first thing is to be clear what you want to feed on. Rich meat is to be found firstly by taking on tasks that are causing other functions pain. What looks hard to another department - process mining, risk modelling, robotic process automation - is core to data and analytics. 

So find somebody who is struggling, take over that task and gain extra power as a result, especially by ensuring you claim ownership of the data needed by promising to make it trustworthy and accessible in return. That may lead to your analysts spending 80% of their time on data normalisation, but that is an issue for another time. 

For now, what you need is to become part of the dominant pack. By getting a C-suite sponsor, especially the CEO or CFO, a chief data officer or chief analytics officer becomes a power player. Nothing opens doors quicker than having direct support from the very top.

At the same time, it is important to keep an eye on other inhabitants of the chaotic environment and get them onside so they do not become a threat. A common theme during the roundtable was the value of building a postive engagement with HR, even though this can take many months to achieve. The data and analytics team needs to grow, which means hiring in individuals who rarely fit pre-existing job definitions and remuneration structures. Having an ally in HR who is willing to adjust the rules to enable your growth makes all the difference.

With power and a sustainable resource (data and people) you are now ready to be the one offering a solution to the chaos. Right now, most CDOs and CAOs are giving insight and options to the C-suite and then leaving the final decision for them to make. The next big political step is to arrive with both evidence and a determined course of action.

That may sound like a significant evolution in the role - it is. But the alternative to eating others is to get eaten by them. Business is not about making friends, it is about making it, even for data and analytics practitioners.

Please note that blogs are the sole view of the author and that they are not neccesarily the view of IQ ddg Ltd and should not be interpreted as advice. Please read our full disclaimer

Knowledge and strategy director, DataIQ
David is developing the framework for soft skills and career development among data and analytics practitioners. He continues to be editor-in-chief and research director for DataIQ.