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.