Data Strategist: Navigating the Zettabyte Maze


The Gist

  • Data strategist vitality. Essential in navigating the massive data growth and ensuring efficient use across departments.
  • Business insight needed. Understanding an organization’s mission and industry is crucial for effective data strategy.
  • Managing data effectively. Data literacy and the ability to communicate its value play key roles in a data strategist’s success.

By now, most organizations have collected a huge amount of data. They collected some of it themselves — and they probably bought more from a service or got it for free from partners. Sometimes it was collected by sensors — in cases like manufacturing — and other times it was picked up through customer interactions, using software systems such as customer relationship management (CRM). Let’s take a look at the explosion of data and the growing importance of the role of the data strategist. 

Data Explosion: 180 Zettabytes by 2025

What we’ve seen so far is only the end of the beginning. According to Statista, global data creation will grow to more than 180 zettabytes by 2025, which is about 50% more than in 2023. Suffice it to say that for each of the next several years, organizations will continue to be faced with data growth at rates never seen before.

Related Article: Creating a Clearly Articulated Data Strategy

Data Mastery: Key to Modern Success

Those who master data have a huge advantage over competitors who don’t. How it’s collected and curated and which tools are used to turn it into business value make or break companies — and even governmental bodies. Traditional analytics tools are still used to analyze much of the information — but now it’s also used to train sophisticated AI models. Many experts go so far as to say that data is now the oil of the information age.

Related Article: Data-Driven Strategies: How to Overcome Data Challenges in Business

Data Strategist: Essential for Organizational Growth

For an organization to get the most out of its data requires a data strategy that has the blessing of the CIO and probably also other C-level executives. Under the CIO should sit somebody who does the leg work and nudges upper management in the right direction. This person is often referred to as the data strategist.

Data Strategist Role Not Widespread in Business

What’s surprising is that the role of data strategist is not as widespread as one might expect.

A captain of a ship guides it through the waters as he stands at the ship's wheel with an island and water and sky in the background in piece about data strategists.
What’s surprising is that the role of data strategist is not as widespread as one might expect.astrosystem on Adobe Stock Photos

Some organizations haven’t come around to the idea that they would benefit from having a cross-company view of what kind of data they need, how they acquire it, store it, and use it — and very critically, what they do when it reaches obsolescence. Others, who understand the need for a businesswide strategy, think the best person to lead the strategy is somebody in a management position, such as the chief data officer (CDO) or head of data analytics. This usually occurs in companies where data analytics are performed in a small number of departments, which makes understanding the big picture part-time work.

Related Article: Finally, a Data Book for CMOs Detailing Data Monetization Strategies

HTC Adopts Alternative to Data Strategist

A case in point is the company HTC Global Services, a provider of IT and business processes services, based in Michigan with 11,000 employees. “In our company we don’t have anybody with the title data strategist, but we have what we call the practice head, which is under digital and reports to me,” says Sangy Vatsa, chief technology and digital officer. “The person who leads the data and analytics practice performs the role of data strategist.”

Related Article: Does Your Organization Need a Chief Data Officer? Probably

More Firms Embrace Independent Data Strategists

But a growing number of organizations make the data strategist a separate role, for at least two reasons. The first is that it is often a full-time job by itself — especially in larger organizations or those where information is particularly crucial. The second is that the independence of the data strategist helps ensure the decisions are made for the good of the wider organization, rather for the benefit of one department.

Related Article: Data Monetization: From Data to Dollars

South Holland Government Employs Dedicated Data Strategist

An example of an organization with a data strategist is the government of South Holland, the most populous and industrialized province in the Netherlands. “My director made this role separate to make it clear that I’m not part of the operational daily practice,” says Margo ter Bekke, data strategist for South Holland. “My job is to understand the data landscape — not only the data we collect internally, but also the data we use from partners and the potential data we could use from external parties.”


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