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A horse race in town: Chief Data Officer vs Chief Reliance Officer

Smart City, the movement, has a horse race underway. At stake: Who will sit closer to the mayor or city manager?

Chief Data Officer, the darling of the data crowd, was out of the gate first. Four lengths behind and gaining, though, is a dark horse. It’s Chief Resilience Officer, favorite of the humanists. He’s breathing hard and coming up fast. Whoever wins will subsume the other.

If Chief Data Officer wins, the city’s chief executive will feel the sway of CDO’s data-driven whispers. All other things being equal, decisions will rely on data analysis.

But if Chief Resilience Officer pulls off a surprise win, the chief executive will hear her slightly more humanist whispers. Data will be a factor, but so will empathy. Here’s how the group 100 Resilient Cities begins to explain resilience:

[Resilience is] the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

I don’t see how that’s done without a big dose of data analysis. What modern process goes without it? The difference is scope: tending toward cold and narrow or toward broad and warm?

Each horse has a cheering section in the stands. Naturally, the data people — data analysts, data stewards, “data scientists,” data people of all kinds — root for the chief data officer. “Run, CDO, run!” To many of them, data is not merely a reflection of the world, it is the world itself.

Nearby them is a small crowd cheering for the chief resilience officer. “Run, CRO, run!” Data’s good, they agree, but there’s more to running a city or living in it.

Within business, the CDO, the data guy, would be the obvious winner. Data is tangible. It’s new and shiny, and it’s got that science-and-research allure of cold certainty.

But this is a city. Warmth and comfort matters, not just “truth” and cold facts. People — the voting populace — have lives to live there in that city.

Which crowd do I stand with? I’m always for the dark horse.

Still a “tool” by any other name

A marketing manager I know stopped me in mid sentence. He didn’t want me to call his business intelligence product a “tool.”

Why? “It sounds small,” he said. But it is small, I pointed out. It’s smaller than many others in its space. It’s downloaded in under a minute and unpacks itself on a desktop in a few minutes.

But he waved that rationale away as if it were a fly, and I should have known. Marketing people, like the parents of gladiators, prefer their progeny to be perceived as big. Bigness casts dark shadows over competitors and conceals weakness. Industry insiders give big competitors good odds.

Users, though, have more immediate, personal concerns. They want something that feels good, works consistently, and adapts easily. This describes a “tool,” a label that should be taken as a compliment, not an insult.

To understand the value of good tools, read what farmer and essayist Wendell Berry writes about them. Over the years, he’s thought about them often, such as in his 1970s essay on the Marugg grass scythe.

It is the most satisfying hand tool that I have ever used. In tough grass it cuts a little less uniformly than the power scythe. In all other ways, in my opinion, it is a better tool because, it is light, it handles gracefully and comfortably even on steep ground, it is far less dangerous, it is quiet and makes no fumes, it is much more adaptable. In rank growth one narrows the cut and shortens the stroke. It always starts — provided the user will start. Aside from reasonable skill and care in use, there are no maintenance problems. It requires no fuel or oil. It runs on breakfast. Its cheaper to buy than most weed eaters and is cheaper to use than any other power mower. And best of all its good exercise.

I’d bet that everyone dreams, at least secretly, of software that matches the Marugg. Sadly, though, people with other agendas usually make the final decision — people whose careers depend on buying not tools but “solutions.” My friend the marketing manager has to appeal to those who write the checks. But I don’t care. I’ll keep saying “tool.”

Meet the “metador”

Information Management editorial director Jim Ericson writes about the modern corporate librarian, the “metador.” He talked to that term’s creator, Bob Boiko.

Boiko says the people he trains or identifies are not usually tech-savvy people, nor do they seek to be. He sees them as natively talented indexers or organizers who might not be called to the job of subject matter expert. “An indexer is already a metator because they’re adding extra information to tag or otherwise make sure information is accessible. A really good indexer doesn’t need to be a subject matter expert and in some senses it’s better if they’re not, because they can make the information base accessible to others who don’t already know the lingo.”

See “Metator, Librarian, Gatekeeper, Broker.”