You Need a Chief Data Officer. Here’s Why.

Image of the word "why"Big data has moved from buzzword to being a part of everyday life within enterprise organizations. An IDG survey reports that 75% of enterprise organizations have deployed or plan to deploy big data projects. The challenge now is capturing strategic value from that data and delivering high-impact business outcomes. That’s where a Chief Data Officer (CDO) enters the picture. While CDO’s have been hired in the past to manage data governance and data management, their role is transitioning into one focused on how to best organize and use data as a strategic asset within organizations.

Gartner estimates that 90% of large global organizations will have a CDO by 2019. Given that estimate, it’s important for CIOs and the rest of the C-suite to understand how a CDO can deliver maximum impact for data-driven transformation. CDOs often don’t have the resources, budget, or authority to drive digital transformation on their own, so the CDO needs to help the CIO drive transformation via collaboration and evangelism.

“The CDO should not just be part of the org chart, but also have an active hand in launching new data initiatives,” Patricia Skarulis, SVP & CIO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said at the recent CIO Perspectives conference in New York.

Chief Data Officer – What, when, how

A few months ago, I was involved in a conversation with the leadership team of a large organization. This conversation revolved around whether they needed to hire a Chief Data Officer and, if they did, what that individual’s role should be. It’s always difficult creating a new role, especially one like the CDO whose oversight spans multiple departments. In order to create this role (and have the person succeed), the leadership team felt they needed to clearly articulate the specific responsibilities and understand the “what, when, and how” aspects of the position.

The “when” was an easy answer: Now.

The “what” and the “how” are a bit more complex, but we can provide some generalizations of what the CDO should be focused on and how they should go about their role.

First, as I’ve said, the CDO needs to be a collaborator and communicator to help align the business and technology teams in a common vision for their data strategies and platforms, to drive digital transformation and meet business objectives.

In addition to the strategic vision, the CDO needs to work closely with the CIO to create and maintain a data-driven culture throughout the organization. This data-driven culture is an absolute requirement in order to support the changes brought on by digital transformation today and into the future.

“My role as Chief Data Officer has evolved to govern data, curate data, and convince subject matter experts that the data belongs to the business and not [individual] departments,” Stu Gardos, CDO at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said at the CIO Perspectives conference.

Lastly, the CDO needs to work with the CIO and the IT team to implement proper data management and data governance systems and processes to ensure data is trustworthy, reliable, and available for analysis across the organization. That said, the CDO can’t get bogged down in technology and systems but should keep their focus on the people and processes as it is their role to understand and drive the business value with the use of data.

In the meeting I mentioned earlier, I was asked what a successful Chief Data Officer looks like. It’s clear that a successful CDO crosses the divide between business and technology and institutes data as trusted currency that is used to drive revenue and transform the business.

Originally published on CIO.com.

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