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How data management roles are evolving

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

UK industry body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) commissioned Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen to make a survey and report on how the role of data professionals is changing, and the status of digitalisation in the industry. It was asked to put together a digitalisation skills development road map.

OGUK ran a webinar to discuss the report in July 2021. The results of the survey were presented by Simon Burnett, Professor of Information Management in the School of Creative and Cultural Business, RGU, and Fionnuala Cousins, course leader for the Petroleum Data Management Graduate Certificate, RGU.

There were 76 responses to the survey, of which 53 per cent (40 respondents) were from operators, and 26 per cent (20 respondents) were from data providers. 66 per cent were from a company with over 250 employees. The respondents were people identifying as data professionals, including data users, data managers and data scientists.

'These data professionals are in the difficult position of having to support their own organization while also supporting rapid change in their own discipline,' said Dr Daniel Brown, Data and Digital Lead, OGUK.
'This study set out to understand the impact digitalisation is having on this community of data professionals.'

The purpose of the study was to help the industry understand its current position with how it works with digital technology, and to better understand where it needs to go, said RGU's Professor Burnett.

A 'digital ecosystem' isn't just about specific software tools, it is also about the skills and expertise of the people who use it, the data management culture, and the environment they work in. 'Success in digital ecosystems involves all of these.'

There are 'embryonic data driven cultures' emerging. 'They will need continuous support,' he said.

Much of the focus on digitalisation is predominantly technology driven. 'That's not necessarily a bad thing. [But] there is an associated need to develop the skill sets,' he said. There is a mix in people's understanding of the 'types' of data processes they are using in their organisation.

'We don't necessarily know what those digitalisation skills we need are,' he said.

There is a wide variety of data related roles. Professor Burnett believes it would be helpful to have clarification on the types of roles, the skills needed and their relationships to each other.

RGU has a project to develop a map of these skills. For example, it could develop a 'family' of digitalisation skills, career paths and key performance indicators.

Fionnuala Cousins, Lecturer, RGU noted that data scientists and data users may themselves be involved in coding, AI, business liaison, data engineering, or all of these.

People with a 'data management' role tended to have less flexibility on what their actual role should be.

Although there are increasingly data management people who have a specific role in data governance. The pursuit of additional data governance may be for a specific business goal, or for more accurate data in general.

Citizen developers

Some data users are becoming 'citizen developers', developing code themselves, or getting more involved in data processes.

A citizen developer can be defined as 'people outside IT but who have the blessing of IT to code their own little tools,' Ms Cousins said. 'It is a kind of ghost role which has previously been discouraged by IT.'

It is very empowering [if] it helps people feel that, rather than having a solution inflicted on them by a separate department, they are authors of their own problem solving.'

There 'shouldn't be an expectation that everyone should become this. If you're a geoscientist, you shouldn't be forced to also be an application developer.'

'I think it should be a route available but not necessarily required of people. It should be recognised as one of the roles which can be a bridge between disciplines which are theoretically supposed to work together, but sometimes don't work together.'

Other people are changing their role, such as data managers becoming 'data wranglers,' trying to get specific data files into shape, or developing software tools for scraping data from old documents.
'If they are coding their own tool, they can consider themselves citizen developers.'

Ms Cousins noted that she originally heard about the concept from a Masters student. 'I thought, that's an interesting thing - I 'll do some more reading on it. '

Dr Daniel Brown, Data and Digital Lead, OGUK, chairing the event, noted. 'it sounds like a way of encouraging people in digital skills. The citizen developers are perhaps the natural champions of these initiatives.'

Professor Burnett added that citizen developers 'see the benefits for the work they are doing themselves.' If this helps them build enthusiasm, this may be something which people around them notice.

Dr Frédéric Verhelst, Total Energies

Dr Frédéric Verhelst, head of data management with Total Energies EP Danmark, says he sees himself as 'data champion' for the company, responsible for creating a data culture and ensuring the company gets value from it, in addition to managing its 'data management'.

His role was created in Oct 2020, and sits in the business domain of the company, 'reporting to one of the direct reports to the managing director.'

The drive towards reduced emissions is itself driving better use of data, he said, such as in meeting demands to produce with less emissions.

It is quite an interesting time for data professionals, also with the current move towards open data platforms, he said.

Mr Verhelst segments data management tasks to 'below the water level' and 'above the water level', in terms of whether they are visible to others in the organisation.

'Below the water level' tasks include data management functions, data quality management, metadata management, master data management, data lifecycle management, data architecture.

'Above the water level' includes areas where data is exposed to people, and also managing staff data literacy, ensuring there is a data driven decision making culture, connecting data to value, and citizen data scientists.

A lot of 'below the water level' data management is needed to support that, he said. 'Part of the expectations from digital transformation will not be met if you don't have good data management in place.'

There are multiple staff roles in Total Energies around digital transformation, including data officer, digital transformation officer, data champion, data citizen, digital champion.

The data profession will have to adapt in a number of ways, such as moving from a world largely of documents and static data to real time data. Also moving from 'data waterfall' (sequential step) projects to 'data ops', and going from being application centric to data centric.

Another move is from 'compliance' driven data management to 'value creating' data management.'

A good data manager would be 'someone who has broad understanding of the complete sphere, and then have some specialised knowledge in some areas,' he said.

So good advice for someone coming into the sector would be that they should understand where the business value is, and how this connects with the data management tasks.

'In the end it comes down to how can you have influence with data, efficiency, generating more money, those types of things. If you're able to do that, I don't think you will ever have an issue of keeping relevant.'

Mr Verhelst was asked if citizen development is an aspect of Total's approach. He replied that Total does have what it calls 'citizen data scientists', defined as someone with in-depth knowledge of one of the business domains, plus the ability to work with big data type tools.



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