Chief data officer’s secret weapon

There’s a single message running like a golden thread through this report. And it’s this: chief data officers (CDOs) need help. We’ve heard how 50 per cent of CDOs are predicted to be unsuccessful, according to Gartner. The pressures on the role are extreme.

There is pressure to produce brilliant results, pressure to win the approval of often bemused boards and pressure to cope with the tsunamis of technology which arrive in wave after wave.

At a recent industry panel on the nature of the CDO, one expert declared she saw the role as borderline intolerable. “I’ve heard some horror stories of companies that got through three CDOs in 18 months,” she said. “They found a candidate, appointed them CDO, but with no budget, no job description or resources, and then turned up at their office after six months asking ‘Why is the data still rubbish?’ The CDO left.”

So where can CDOs turn to for assistance? It’s a question the consultancy Eden Smith has devoted itself to. Just as the role is new and fresh, Eden Smith is a new company architectured around the needs of the CDO. Its mission is to be the first port of call for the entire CDO profession. It’s a unique pitch, for a unique job. Eden Smith is a consultancy, it is a staffing consultancy and it offers a one-stop shop for expertise across the industry.

Eden Smith - it’s a consultancy, it’s a staffing specialist, it’s a one stop shop

This last point needs elaborating, because the model is revolutionary. A major challenge for the CDO is wading through the smorgasbord of services offered by the data industry. There are transformation agencies, cloud services, data cleaners, algorithm designers and so on. How can a CDO find the right services?

“We offer a single way in to an ecosystem of partners,” explains Jez Clark, co-founder of Eden Smith. “We have 35 specialist data and analytics partners we can introduce you to, in an impartial and fee-free manner. CDOs come to us, discuss their challenges and we find the right partners for them to work with.”

The ecosystem is composed of the elite of the data industry, including the leading Gartner MQ [Magic Quadrant] products such as Exasol, the world’s fastest in-memory database for analytics; Alteryx, the popular self-service analytics software; and Dataiku, the collaborative data science platform. There’s also Cynozure for data strategy and Oakland for data governance.

“We have reciprocal contracts with all our partners in our ecosystem so, for example, we can offer licences and servers for Alteryx to clients as a value-added reseller,” says Mr Clark.

If a project needs experts from a variety of service providers, Eden Smith will recruit and organise the team from across the network. “We have access to one of the biggest talent pools in Europe,” he says. “If you have a data transformation project, for example, we can work with you to understand your requirement and deliver a programme with our own people, project managing other specialists so you get exactly what you need.”

The approach simplifies procurement. A large government agency uses Eden Smith as a single vendor to access all members of the ecosystem. “Setting up a contract with a new supplier can be a massive pain,” says Mr Clark. “This way they only have to engage with us. A single-vendor approach eliminates the procurement headache for the CDO.”

As a lead actor in the data industry, Eden Smith is naturally well placed to offer staffing services too. In fact, it’s how the company began, two-and-a-half years ago. “My co-founder Matt Smith and I have 25 years in IT staffing, managing large teams across the UK and Europe. Our first focus for Eden Smith was to be the first dedicated search consultancy for chief data officers and data professionals,” he says.

“The evolution to a full data consultancy, with a partner network, came directly from client demand. Our customers asked us how to get strategic advice, expertise and training around data. We were so immersed in the data community, we said we could make the introductions.”

Eden Smith’s philosophy and strategy is to be so close to CDOs in the UK and Europe that the consultancy becomes the first port of call whenever they need help. If they need talent, consultancy services, bespoke expertise or to find another challenge, Eden Smith offers the easiest and deepest way to access everything the industry can offer.

The company hosts regular CDO meetups in London, with attendees travelling from across Europe. It is revealing that the CDO Playbook, essential reading for all chief data officers, quotes Eden Smith extensively in its pages.

“If a CEO needs to find a CDO, we are the obvious place to come,” says co-founder and director Mr Smith. “Our executive search is the most comprehensive in the industry. We are the exclusive data staffing partner of Big Data London. And the same is true for CDOs too. If they need a new challenge we can help them find the most exciting opportunity.”

Graduate talent is a key part of the jigsaw. “We have links with seven top universities,” says Mr Clark. “We utilise the skills of MSc data science graduates. We introduce them to our customers and they do work experience, delivering a project. The customer gets priority right to hire. And we feedback from industry to the universities so they can improve the course content for the following year.”

The scheme puts Eden Smith at the source of the talent pipeline and builds links with academia. It is a unique approach. And it’s why, in just over two years, Eden Smith has won clients such as Lloyds Bank, ING, Sainsbury’s, PwC, and Deloitte in the UK, Deutsche Telekom in Germany, and others across the Nordic countries and the Netherlands.

As the role of the CDO matures, there will be greater prestige, trust from boards and larger budgets. But CDOs will still need help to navigate the landscape of the data industry. Eden Smith is positioning itself to be the first number CDOs call, no matter what they need.

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