What’s the Role of the Chief Data Officer?

I recently read through a fascinating discussion on EMC’s Chuck’s Blog: Are Conditions Right For a “Chief Data Officer.” The blog derives quite a bit from an excerpt from a book, The Case for Chief Data Officer. The books authors, Peter Aiken and Michael Gorman, argue that c-level managers must be data savvy, and that someone must “own” a data strategy.

From a basic perspective, this mentality makes a lot of sense. With the abundance of data and information that we collect, now is the time for data management to take center stage through a Chief Data Officer position. CIO’s are under enough pressure to implement and adopt IT, and with the high value that data is bringing into an organization, now is the time to have one person solely dedicated to unlocking the power of data for government agencies.

As I was reading through the posts, there’s two lingering questions for me that stood out – who does the CDO report too? What are the core functions of the role? These are two inherently basic questions to ask and are good starting points for the discussion. I’ve highlighted some insights below.

Who does the CDO report too?

Aiken and Gorman argue that the CDO should be a new c-level position and report outside of the IT portfolio. The authors state:

The CDO is a business function and should not report to IT. As organizations are embracing the CDO concept, 80 percent of them have this individual report to IT. We strongly disagree with this concept. Appointing a CDO subordinate to the CIO (or any IT leader) forces data to be managed as part of the IT portfolio. The CDO cannot accomplish data leveraging while subject to the structured deadlines of IT projects. Further, if they report through someone who is not data-knowledgeable, it will be impossible to improve the data decision-making process.

While transformation may require some organizational discomfort, this move will achieve improved organizational IT performance faster and cheaper than ERPs, Six Sigma, or any other silver bullet attempted to date. Read more here.

To me, these were some fascinating insights – and ones I’d agree with. Data crosses everything in an organization, and to fully support governance efforts and find new insights from data – the CDO should be a unique position.

What does the CDO do?

Once again, the authors provide a great overview of the role of the CDO:

  • Focus on solely on data asset leveraging these activities are outside of and more importantly both upstream and independent of any application system development lifecycle (SDLC) activities.
  • Report to the same organizational structure that the CFO and other top asset management jobs report into; reporting outside of IT and the current CIO/CTO structure altogether.
  • Report directly to the business and concentrate on a crawl, walk, and run strategy regularly and measurably improving the maturity of organizational data management practices.

One reason that I think this is really important to consider with data is that data is not just a one off project. Building a “data driven” culture means that data use is viewed as something innate to the organization, and not just project specific. By focusing on data across an entire agency, the CDO can help improve data quality over time, institute standards and help program managers connect the dots with data.

In Chuck’s blog, he asks when the tipping point will be for agencies adopting the CDO. He identified how we’ve already seen dozens of examples of CDO’s at the state, local and federal level. In many cases, individuals are already serving in the CDO role, but are functioning under a different title. From my perspective, we are already at the tipping point- and the role is allocating the right resources or doing an organizational shift to create the position. Data powers everything that we do, and is going to be essential to transform and modernize agencies.

What do you think? What is the role of the CDO and who should they report too?

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EMC Corporation, a global IT leader, enables the federal government to transform its operations and deliver IT as a service. Fundamental to this transformation is cloud computing. Through innovative products and services, delivered in partnership with leading government contractors and federal systems integrators, EMC accelerates the journey to cloud computing, helping federal IT departments to store, manage, protect, and analyze their most valuable asset—information—in a more agile, trusted, and cost-efficient way. Additional information can be found at www.EMC.com/federal.

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