Why the CDO or ‘Top Data Job’ is Needed Now

I’ve opined about this before, and I’m going to do it again. It is time for the role of Chief Data Officer (or chief data czar or, as my friend Peter Aiken calls it, the ‘top data job’). Regardless of what it’s called, we’re overdue to see this role as broadly deployed and with as much authority as a chief marketing officer or a chief information security officer.

The crux of the matter is this: data is a corporate asset. There is not a single company on the planet today that can successfully operate without data. I think we can all agree on that. There are lots of ways to define and measure corporate assets, and on every scale, data scores points. If you own stock in a company in which the chief executive or chief financial officer does not believe that data adds value to his or her company, you should sell that stock now.

The reality is that the CIO role – chief information officer – manages practically all infrastructure except data. Their portfolios are so large that data – arguably the most critical asset of the business – is an afterthought. It’s time for the paradigm to shift. The management of data needs to rise to an enterprise, holistic level, with those assets focused on the support of the business strategy. Technology and infrastructure should support the needs of data.

Again, Peter Aiken articulates this very well. The systems view today (and historically) is depicted in the following figure:

In support of the corporate strategy, the organization develops specific goals and objectives. These goals and objectives drive the development of specific systems and applications. The development of systems and applications leads to network/infrastructure requirements. Data and information are typically considered after the systems and applications and after the network and infrastructure have been articulated. There are problems with this approach:

  • This ensures that data is formed around the application and not the organizational information requirements
  • Process are narrowly formed around applications
  • And, very little data reuse is possible

In the data-centric development process (see figure below), the organization develops specific goals/objectives in support of corporate strategies.

But then, the goals and objectives drive the development of specific data and information assets with an eye to organization-wide usage. The network and infrastructure components are developed to support organization- wide use of data. Finally, systems and applications are developed, derived from the data and network architecture.

This approach has several advantages:

  • Data and information assets are developed from an organization-wide perspective
  • Systems support organizational data and information needs, as well as compliment organizational process flows
  • Finally, data and information reuse is maximized and return on investment in these assets are optimized

At the recent Master Data Management & Data Governance Europe Conference held in London, the much-respected Jill Dyche (of Dataflux) gave a presentation on how much more aware CEOs are of the value of data to their organization, and of data management and data governance of key functions to support the business strategy. But, I was disappointed that she stopped short, and just stopped there.

Taking this argument to its natural conclusion, you absolutely make the argument for someone to oversee all critical aspects of data. After all, there is a C-level officer in charge of enterprise human resources. And, a C-level officer in charge of enterprise financial resources.

A Chief Data Officer (chief data czar, top data job) is a statement that is overdue and needs to be made resoundingly loudly. Every company that is serious about its growth, innovation, competitiveness, and revenues needs a Chief Data Officer.  We’re seeing with the big data movement (I hesitate to call it a trend) that data and analytics are the lifeblood of any good organization. But, IT HAS TO BE MANAGED WELL in order for it to be successful. Otherwise, big data – more data faster – just adds chaos.

If you have a company doesn’t have someone seriously looking out for its data assets, then you have a company that will not succeed long-term.


One thought on “Why the CDO or ‘Top Data Job’ is Needed Now

  1. Hi Micheline

    Thank you for bringing this out in the open. Organisations will indeed have to manage their data assets more effectively in future.

    I would only make a subtle change to the data-centric diagram:
    Strategy -> Goals/Objectives -> Process/Data/Information -> Infrastructure (Hardware and Software). Processes enable the production/collection of data and the consumption/use of data in the form of information.


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