Starting an Enterprise Data Program From Scratch, Part 2

In my initial blog on December 11, I kicked off dataTrending with a discussion on building an enterprise information management (EIM) program from scratch, as well as what the role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) should be. The two big challenges we faced at the State of Colorado with regards to EIM were, first, the operational authority and scope of the CDO and program. This blog picks up where the first blog left off, and deals with the second challenge, how to build value quickly in an organization with no history or reference point for this type of work.

The State literally had no history of enterprise architecture or data management principles and policies beyond individual agencies.  Creating value quickly to both build momentum and to increase support among the skeptics would be critical. There was an abundance of opportunities and work to be done. How should we start and how do we prioritize opportunities? How do we organize the work and develop a framework that is repeatable and sustainable across a $19B organization? How do we manage work across multiple swim lanes – governance, policy and process, change management, technology and tools – at once? How does one mobilize an organization to start thinking and acting differently about its data? The cultural and trust issues can be real impediments to success and need to be addressed both head on and with diplomacy.

The most critical factor was to align and prioritize this work with the strategic needs, opportunities, and key business drivers of the State. What was important from the executive management’s (the Governor, Legislature, and Agency Directors) perspective? What were their top problems and issues they were trying to solve that could be supported by our program? This is the only way, in my opinion, an EIM program can truly add value and keep support.

The three prisms through which we approached our work was legislative, governance, and operations.

Through a series of four laws over two years, we established the state’s intent around data sharing and information management; explicitly gave agencies permission to share data (unless a federal or other state law expressly prohibited sharing of certain data); and, established a governance board that would retain continuity through administration changes.

On the governance side, we purposefully asked for a mix of business, technology, and financial representatives from the agency participants to ensure that business was driving priorities. Meetings were held monthly, and a very actionable set of deliverables was developed and worked through so progress could be quickly seen.

Operationally, we adopted enterprise architecture and data management frameworks to ensure our approach had a roadmap and followed industry best practices. We created an enterprise data strategy and work priorities were developed through input from key stakeholders across the organization and the governance board.

One of our primary business drivers was enterprise information sharing to inform policy making, resource decisioning, and program management. We identified three primary communities of interest with major information sharing initiatives across the state agencies and leveraged those projects to begin building out our portfolio of policies, processes, procedures, technologies, and tools that we would need to support enterprise initiatives. Into the project budgets we added line items for key tasks, activities, or people to support the work. Things like an enterprise architecture tool, business analysts, and data systems inventorying.

Instead of trying to tackle the entire data management framework, we identified four major areas that would support the information sharing business driver to begin our policy and standards work. And then finally, we just dove in and started the hard work. It was a major effort of entrepreneurship in a government environment. It was not always easy, and not everything we did was a huge success. But we had executive support and were iteratively able to make progress and show small wins built into bigger successes.

CDO Insights – Starting an Enterprise Data Program from Scratch

In 2009, I became the Chief Data Officer of the State of Colorado, the first for a state in the country. It was a tremendous opportunity, as well as an honor, to be appointed by a governor – and supported by a legislature – who truly had the vision and understood the role of data in an organization to truly transform service delivery and performance management across an enterprise.

There were two primary challenges in creating this role in the enterprise. The first was the development of a strong operational model for the role. What is the span of authority a Chief Data Officer (CDO) should have, both strategically and tactically? How does this authority get created and embedded, via policy, budget, and operations? How and with whom will this role engage across enterprise lines of business (in this case, the executive branch agencies, the legislature, and key stakeholders at the state and local level)? What kind of team is needed to support the CDO?

The second challenge was that the State literally had no history of enterprise architecture or data management principles and policies.  Creating value quickly to both build momentum and to increase support among the skeptics would be critical. There was an abundance of opportunities and work to be done, which I will discuss in a later post.

The Chief Data Officer role can be a crucial part of the C-level, strategic thinking of an enterprise in the era of all things digital and data. It’s been said ad naseum that data and information are some of the most important assets that organizations – private and public sector, large and small businesses alike – have. And of course, it’s true. However, it’s been my observation that most organizations still very much struggle with their level of sophistication around how to really manage, integrate, and leverage this major asset class in a way that drives opportunity, transformation, bottom line results, stock price increase, or improvements in service delivery.  It’s surprising there’s not been more momentum to create this role within organizations.

A strong enterprise information management program can result in the following benefits to organizations:

  • Customer-centric integrated information environment
  • Access to robust information and delivery of that information where needed, including to mobile devices
  • Economies of scale and reduced development efforts and operational costs
  • Consistent and reliable information, with the ability to layer on strong advanced analytics
  • More agile and proactive business operations
  • Platform scalability with more shared services
  • Data as a service, capturing data once and leveraging it across multiple business processes and applications
  • Trust framework that enables appropriate information sharing and access while ensuring privacy, confidentiality, and compliance

An obvious question is: shouldn’t this be what the Chief Information Officer (CIO) should do? Perhaps, but the reality in most organizations is that the CIO is focused on the technology and operations that support the organizational data needs. This by itself is an enormous challenge. Most CIOs are very good consultative partners with regards to how technology can support business operations.However, the true ownership and stewardship of data and information rests on the business side of the house, not with the technologists.

Therefore, the executive suite needs someone who can oversee the strategic business application of its information assets enterprise-wide. Someone who advocates for information; who can facilitate cross-departmental discussions about information; who’s responsibility it is to optimize existing information assets, to identify information gaps, and to work with units to acquire needed data (structured and unstructured); someone who build the trust and partnerships across the organization (chief diplomatic officer? – more on this in a future post); and, someone who can set organizational standards and policies for enterprise information management to improve quality, accuracy, and usability of critical core data assets. These are at the center of a CDO’s responsibilities.

I think that over the next decade, we will see much great interest in and a maturing of the role of the Chief Data Officer in the same way we’ve seen the Chief Information Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, or Chief Information Security Officer roles mature.