Anyone who chooses a career in data management takes on a responsibility that could impact people’s lives in many different ways. A few of these impacts are described in the following five examples.
Business professionals in public and private sector organizations perform a wide variety of business activities. Nearly every one of those business activities involves some form of data—either data used to perform the business activity or data created by the business activity. Regardless whether those data are used or created, they must be properly managed through formal concepts, principles, and techniques. When the data are not properly managed, they become less useful for supporting the current business activities or future business activities.
The data resource in general, and data in particular, bring knowledge to business professionals. The data resource provides the raw material for preparing information, which provides understanding to business professionals. When that understanding has been retained by business professionals and combined with business experience, it becomes tacit (sometimes known as implicit) knowledge that can be applied to achieving business goals. When the data resource does not provide quality raw material, the information quality is low, the knowledge is weak, and support to business goals is less than desirable.
A good data resource adequately represents the business and any good business is adequately represented through the data resource. The data resource, when properly managed, provides tremendous insight into the past, present, and future business activities. Analyzing historical trends and patterns, performing current business operations and making operational decisions, and evaluating future business options and opportunities can only be done with a high-quality data resource. Any business activity, when you get right down to the detail level, focuses on individual business facts as stored in the data resource. In most operational situations, it’s the individual facts that are used to make individual operational decisions. When those facts are in error, the wrong business decision is likely to be made. However, when those facts are correct, the proper business decisions are likely to be made. Therefore, the more accurate the facts in the data resource, the more likely it is that right decisions are made.
Decision making is a detailed process in its own right. The process includes looking at existing facts, looking at options and opportunities, looking at current situations and future possibilities, performing various analyses, and ultimately making a decision. The quality of that decision making process determines the quality of the decision that is finally made. The facts used in the decision making process do not impact the decision making process itself—they only lead to a more informed decision. In other words, higher quality facts in the data resource lead to a more informed decision, not necessarily a better decision.
You can see from these five examples that the responsibility of anyone choosing to enter the data management profession chooses to accept a tremendous responsibility for developing and maintaining a high-quality data resource that, through a chain of information and knowledge, support the business goals of an organization.
Data Management Roles
Anyone who chooses a career in data management could perform one of several different roles and could have a career path through these different roles. The four basic data management roles are explained below.
A data management executive is responsible for ensuring that the data resource in an organization completely supports the business goals of the organization. The executive does not necessarily need to know all the details of managing a high-quality data resource, but does need to know the broad data needs of the organization. Those data needs are most often determined by looking at the knowledge needed by the organization’s knowledge workers, the information needed to provide that knowledge, and the data needed to provide the information. It’s the data management executive’s responsibility to ensure that the determination of knowledge, information, and data needs are carried out for every business function in the organization. If the data management executive does adequately carry out that responsibility, the customer’s needs in a private sector organization and the citizen’s needs in a public sector organization may not be met.
A data manager is responsible for ensuring that the specific data management responsibilities are carried out for the organization. That responsibility generally includes budgeting and accounting, personnel management, establishing priorities, planning and project management, conflict resolution, facilities management, presentation and writing, interpersonal communication, and other managerial tasks. The data manager often functions as a liaison between the data management executive who established directions and commits resources, and the data management staff that carries out the data management tasks. The data manager seldom gets to perform specific data management tasks, but must be aware of the data management tasks that need to be performed to develop and maintain a high-quality data resource.
A data management technician is responsible for carrying out the data management tasks related to developing and maintaining a high-quality data resource for an organization. The technical tasks include understanding business needs, developing logical data models to meet those business needs, developing a physical data model to properly implement those business needs in a physical operating environment, developing the actual databases in a physical operating environment, and maintaining those databases. Technical tasks include maintaining current operational data, evaluating historical data, and using existing data to make future predictions. The data management technician needs a wide variety of skills from technical data management to interpersonal communication skills, from detailed analysis and synthesis to writing and presentation skills, and from the ability to conceptualize to the ability to implement the concepts.
A data management consultant is responsible for providing professional support to an organization for any of these three major roles. The data management consultant may provide services within an organization, or may provide services across a wide variety of organizations. The data management consultant must have a wide variety of experience in the data management area where the consultation is being provided. The classical statement about a consultant in general, and data management professional in particular, is that they must have 25 years of experience, not one year of experience 25 times over. A good data management consultant must be thoroughly honed in the skills which they are providing to an organization.
These four data management roles provide a variety of career paths for anyone choosing to enter the data management profession. A person usually starts out in the technical area, either in database management or in data modeling. A person can progress from the technical area, through data manager, to data management executive. A person can remain in any of those roles where they are comfortable. A person can come from management or executive experience in other business functions to data manager or data management executive. A person with experience in any of these roles can become a data management consultant. The choice is really up to each individual and their career goals and desires.