Why your business needs a chief data officer

The Boardroom

by Claire Vanner| 28 February 2014

Industry experts explain the importance of a data figurehead.

According to Gartner there were over 100 chief data officers (CDOs) serving in large enterprises in 2013 - more than double the number in 2012.

And these changes are not restricted to the private sector - Gartner has also predicted that by 2014, more than 10% of government organisations will have appointed a CDO.

"There was once a fear of technology but there is a genuine thirst for information now," says Michael Corcoran, VP, Information Builders.

As data becomes more of an issue, many employees will be given their own tools, technologies and applications to manage their everyday work. But should business users control the data, or should IT?

"This is where the role of the data officer comes in: how do we enable the business but also provide the safeguards, the security and availability of information. If it's not managed well by someone at a senior level, we're going to end up with a greater deal of discrepancy across the business and that will lead to other problems," says Corcoran.

What does the CDO do?

The rudimentary elements a CDO needs to address is the ABC challenge: bringing together the Analytical, Business and Computing functions within an organisation, which typically work separately to achieve different business goals.

The role varies in definition depending on the needs of the company, but ultimately it's about data governance. The CDO should look at setting policies on data utilisation, how employees manage data and who it is shared with. They will also look at how to bring external sources of data and utilitse them with internal systems, whether that be social media, web information, system logs or machine generated information.

John Morton, CTO, SAS UK and Ireland, says: "While an effective CDO can bring economic value to a business by instigating big data best-practice, they must demonstrate both heightened business acumen and diplomacy to be able to leverage their position for the good of the business."

Who does the CDO report to?

Corcoran says that the business's strategy will help determine where the CDO is placed. In some organisations it is a role that reports directly to the CEO, so he is a peer of the CFO, CMO and COO. In some organisations it's a role that does report to the CIO where the focus of the data related issues is in IT. In some instances, it may even sit with the business: a person who will be a liason to IT for the business units in order to create alignment.

"By harnessing a broad range of technical and interpersonal skills - whether through CDOs or combined data teams - the opportunity is there for organisations to harness enterprise-wide data and gain a commercial advantage over their competitors," says Morton.

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