Interview: Joe Nathan, Vice President, Data & Digital Analytics At Electrocomponents Plc And Former Director of Information Management With News Uk.

"It's actually everyone's responsibility to make sure data is secure infrastructure. The question is, who's accountable?"


In eager anticipation to this year's Big Data Innovation Summit being held in London, the following is an interview we conducted with Joe Nathan at another one of big data summits.

At the time, Nathan had been the Director of Information Management at News UK for two and a half years. Prior to that, he was the Director of Research and Customer Insight at The Economist for six years. He is currently Vice President, Data & Digital Analytics at Electrocomponents, one of the world's leading high-service distributors for engineers.

The chief data officer role is becoming increasingly popular in the US, but why isn't quite as established in Europe?

If you look at the technology world, everything's pretty much driven from Silicon Valley in the US. I think data is an extension to that, in that, as you build new technologies, you want to harness the power of data. So it kind of makes sense that the US is heavily driven towards using the power of data and it's slowly seeping into Europe.

We've been hearing about the skills gap in data science for several years, have you found it difficult to hire good enough people?

The issue with hiring data scientists is really, whether you want to hire a data scientist who's a specialist in, for example, we're in media, so do you want someone who's been heavily exposed to media and data within media? Or do you just want a data scientist who's a generalist?

I think we used to think that it's better to have someone who's got that nice skill-set, a subject matter expert as well as the subject matter expert in the industry. But actually, what we're finding is those data scientists who've worked in other industries, whether it's automobile, travel, something completely different to the industry that you want them in, bring in a different external lens.

Then it's really about whether the data scientists will fit within the team unit that you've built, whether that's engineers, business partners, or product owners. It's making sure that the data scientist works as part of a team unit.

So how much responsibility should a CDO (chief data officer) take for data security?

Right, so data security is a hot topic. I think it depends on the organizational structure. If you've got a clear line around what a CIO (chief information officer) or a CTO (chief technology officer) does, and that includes security, you could argue that data sits within that framework. If you've got more of a looser kind of roles and responsibilities of a CIO to actually include data, so the CIO is a CDO, then yes, that the CDO would own the security of data.

I think it's actually everyone's responsibility to make sure data is secure, infrastructure is secure. I guess the question is, who's accountable? In my view, I think the CDO should take the accountability. Whether the responsibility falls on the CIO, the CTO or the CDO, it's up for grabs.

What unique challenges do you think data leadership roles have compared to other senior positions?

Oooh, senior leadership roles and data... that's a tricky one. I think senior data roles are more salespeople. They've got the difficulty these days of trying to sell to the execs, to the business, to stakeholders who've been there for many years and who've built success around gut instinct.

You've got to get new data senior leaders to become salesman, storytellers, as well as subject matter experts. So I think there is a slight difference in the skill sets and the way you kind of present and package what you want to say to your senior stakeholder list.

How do you see the use of data changing in the next 10 years?

Well, the use of data in the last five years has changed incredibly, with the transformation to digital in many industries. I think the next 10 years will be driven by new products. If you look back at Amazon releasing the Kindle, way back when, that triggered a lot of things from a data perspective. We were able to see and monitor how long people read books what kind of books they like.

So I think the next new product, whether it's an Apple or an Amazon or a Google that provides that, will then take data to the next dimension. And I think specifically within the UK and Europe, we're going to be either hindered in some shape or form with the various privacy rules coming into place, so it'll be interesting to see how that plays out.


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