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How to staff a data factory

As data becomes the lifeblood of business, CIOs and CISOs need to cultivate talent that can maximize its value

By Andrew Dalton

The most in‑demand IT roles today are full‑stack developer, DevOps engineer and data scientist. The first two jobs didn’t exist a decade ago. The third was only beginning to gain mainstream recognition. That finding, from a recent study by Indeed.com, suggests a broad shift in how IT departments operate—one with big implications for workers, CIOs and CISOs alike.

For years, the core purpose of IT was managing a company’s tech infrastructure and systems of record. The top jobs a decade ago—database and network admins, Java developer and SAP consultant, according to staffing firm Yoh—belonged to experts who understood how to use and maintain those systems.

Today, cloud and IoT infrastructure is throwing off data in unprecedented volumes. IT pros will need to master new tools to capture, access, and organize all that data. Notably, organizations will mine that data using machine learning and AI tools that help them scale, optimize, and predict IT support functions.

“Data isn’t magic,” says Peter Burris, director of research at SiliconANGLE Media. “We still need someone to understand the challenge of data acquisition and the people who can turn it into value.”

From asset manager to orchestrator

Every click, view, like, share, scroll and transaction creates potentially valuable information. In the next decade, successful CIOs will be those who solve the immense problem of gathering, securing, organizing, standardizing, analyzing, and then applying that data in ways that create new value—either by unlocking new revenue streams or discovering new operational efficiencies.

“The difference between business and digital business is really simple,” Burris says. “Digital businesses treat their data as an asset and compete on the basis of that asset. The future will be companies re‑institutionalizing the work around their data.”

To survive in this new world, IT departments must evolve into data factories. CIOs and CISOs will oversee the factory floor and make sure it drives profits. Mid‑level IT pros will still be tasked with managing the IT infrastructure that keeps the factory running and churning out data.

Eventually, these roles will start to disappear from corporate IT functions as companies automate their infrastructure and offload it to the cloud. In a recent TechTarget article, Andrew Horne, managing director of Gartner’s global CIO leadership council, predicts that corporate IT specialists will increasingly build their careers with vendors and service providers instead. 

Next-gen skill sets

Taking their place over the next decade will be more full‑stack developers, DevOps managers, and new roles that are beginning to take shape today. Most of these new hires will require deep experience in coding and development. Depending on the size of the company, they will likely have additional expertise in cloud computing, distributed infrastructure, and data analytics that help them deliver system performance at scale.

These are must‑haves in the era of cloud computing, where physical IT assets are being replaced by virtual ones, collaboration is key and every transaction adds to the growing mountain of data. As IT workers cultivate these new areas of expertise, Horne imagines three high‑level roles combining hard and soft skills:

●      Workers with the deepest tech experience will find new roles as tech brokers—advisors who can guide corporate IT managers and business partners to the tech services they need.

●      Other experts will help companies define and optimize new work processes.

●      Behavioral specialists will manage collaborative workflows, while user experience designers will use analytics to improve interface design.



Each of these roles requires an understanding of how knowledge workers can use technology to enhance their productivity. “In this respect, [next‑gen IT workers] are more like anthropologists than technologists,” Horne writes.

A similar evolution is taking place in security. When big corporations started hiring CISOs in the mid‑2000s, one area of focus was developing policies that restricted access to data. Eventually, these restrictions ran up against the organization’s need for scale and speed. As a result, CISOs have increasingly been tasked with ensuring that data remains a business asset. In addition to protecting company and customer data, they typically define the characteristics of data assets, determine how they create value for the business, and make a business case for why and how they should be protected.

In coming years, IT must shed its back‑office legacy and emerge as a critical strategic resource for organizations. “There are very few companies that understand the characteristics of specialization that we are going to encounter over the next 10 years,” Burris says. “The job of creating business value out of that data is going to explode.”

Andrew Dalton is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Buzzfeed News, SF Weekly, and San Francisco Magazine.

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