Chief Data Officers and the New Information Governance

Kachina Shaw

The trend of adding Chief Data Officers (CDOs) to the C-suite continues to grow. As I’ve watched the frequency rise, I’ve realized that it’s backward to me, since data consists of unorganized, unprocessed facts, and information is data given structure and context, making it meaningful and useful. Many capable CIOs who are plugged into the organizational strategy likely don’t want to see another C-level position added to manage a slice of their responsibilities because that slice is currently a hot topic and potential source of new markets and revenues.

On the proliferation of CDOs in public organizations, Forrester Research’s Jennifer Belissent skeptically writes that “… not all assets have their own chief, nor should they.”

So, what will the CDOs accomplish?

The FCC is naming CDOs in each bureau and office, to be “responsible for the policies and practices that make FCC data available internally and externally as an asset for daily use.” This appears to be a process- and system-oriented group of CDOs.

The Federal Reserve plans to name a Chief Data Officer as part of its effort to redesign “data governance and management processes to enhance the board’s data environment,” according to this InformationWeek piece.

IT Business Edge’s Susan Hall wrote earlier in 2013 of the plan at the National Institutes of Health plan to name a CDO to be in charge of “managing the deluge of biomedical research data coming from areas such genomics, imaging and electronic health records.”

Futurist David Houle told IT Business Edge’s Don Tennant that within three years, “there won’t be a Fortune 500 company that won’t have a Chief Data Officer or Chief Data Engineer. And I think small-and medium-sized companies will need to have somebody who is outside the CIO/CTO category, unless it’s a brand new hire.” And in smaller companies, Houle predicts, “the CIO may take on this task.” Houle’s take is that the jobs Big Data is creating in this area won’t need to be filled with tech-savvy people; he’s looking forward to creative thinkers and those who skillfully recognize new opportunities and patterns to lead the way.

I tend to think that data analysts will fill the CDO roles, as making new connections, not just reorganizing Big Data, is the end goal. That being said, will the trend lead to CIOs who don’t take control of analyzing their own data being replaced by CDOs?

Analyzing where the CDOs are in the hierarchy and what the duties end up being will help us predict the fate of some CIOs. In the best case, the addition could complement the CIO and allow him or her to focus on creating an infrastructure that maximizes results from this concentrated data analysis. And we’ll see other configurations arise that might then become an established path; Alibaba’s CDO was just named CEO.

The recently released results of the Harvey Nash CIO Survey 2013 show that CIOs consumed with maintaining staff talent levels and technology may still regard the Big Data focus as a relatively minor distraction: “For almost two-thirds of CIOs, big data is not seen as a major disruptor: only one-third (38 percent) believe it adds high advantage and one in 10 (12 percent) viewed it as a disadvantage.” Could that attitude lead to a reduction in their control over the data/information life blood of their companies?

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