I am not a seasoned writer. If I was I would save the punchline for the last paragraph, forcing you to wade through another six hundred odd words. Instead, I will given those of you who want to close this tab the opportunity to do so. When I refer to the CCO, I mean the Chief CSV Officer, the person in the organisation who is primarily responsible for extracting CSV files from your prized enterprise applications. There you go, you can leave now if you want.

For the uninitiated, CSV stands for comma-separated values, effectively text files that store tabular data (like that from a spreadsheet) in the simplest form possible. For this reason, they are often the preferred output format for database systems and analytics software alike. While I am fully aware that no company actually has someone formally dedicated to CSV extracts – although funnily enough there does seem to be one Chief CSV Officer in Japan – this role is important. The CCO tends to be the gatekeeper of critical data.

"You bring those CSVs I asked for?" "Shhh! Want the sysadmin to hear us?!" Photo by Dongho Kim.

Anyone who has worked for a large non-tech enterprise will be familiar with the role that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems play. While I have no interest in debating the merits of Oracle, SAP, and others, suffice to say these systems tend to contain some of the organisation's most valuable data. Think customer details, transaction records, and inventory metrics, usually going back years. Particularly for organisations hosting these applications on-premise, getting data out of them in a scalable manner can be a nightmare.

Enter our MVP – that's most valuable player, in this context – the CCO. The CCO is that girl or guy, often in IT, who knows how to coax records from the ERP system or similar. Using proprietary tools and languages, they run queries and execute scripts that spit out CSV files containing the information the business needs. Ask them about their workload and they will regale you with a laundry list of extracts people across the organisation are waiting for.

This is a problem. No matter how well-intentioned or hard working, the CCO's efforts will never scale to match the needs of the organisation. The efficiency of this process is also rather questionable, and not just because there is such a reliance on a single person. After all, any mistakes or omissions in the CSVs will need to be picked up by stakeholders and fed back to the CCO, who then needs to run the numbers again – a process that can repeat itself! While the CCO might be a valued subject matter expert they can become a bottleneck.

Extract a CSV file from this legacy system? Just say no kids. Photo by Mika Baumeister.

So, how can organisation free the CCO of their unlauded burden, instead establishing scalable means of extracting and serving data to the business? Firstly, it helps to recognise that this role exists – and how important it is! Celebrate the expertise of the CCO by moving them into a data architecture or engineering role, where they can focus on organising and preparing data for consumption by others. Meanwhile, be sure to invest in proper data replication and integration tools. More on that in a future post as it is a complex topic.

Unlike Chief Data Officers, most CCOs never chose that life. Instead the CCO life chose them. Over the years this can burn people out, bottleneck major analytics initiatives, and cause massive friction between IT and the rest of the business. Is a CDO really a CDO when they are unable to access the organisation's essential data? Whatever the answer, recognising that unlocking the value of data starts with unlocking the data itself is non-negotiable.

– Ryan