One Simple Reason You Need a Chief Data Officer

Loraine Lawson
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Technologists are almost always on-board for promoting an IT job out of the division and straight to the boardroom.

I can’t count the number of proposed CXO positions I’ve seen while covering technology, some of which I thought were smart to promote. For instance, back at the turn of the century, security needed to be taken much more seriously than it was.

That’s why articles and blog posts advocating for a chief data officer give me pause. On the one hand, I firmly believe data is an enterprise-wide endeavor and an incredibly important strategic asset. But I also realize I’ve become biased since covering the topic for all these years.


Data integration expert David Linthicum seems to shares my hesitation.

“I’m not a big fan of creating positions around trends in technology,” he writes in a recent Actian post. “Back in the day, we had the chief object officer, chief PC officer, chief Web officers, you name it.”

Nonetheless, he’s arguing that there is a very real business need for a Chief Data Officer — within the ranks of IT — because data, he writes, is not a trend.

“It’s systemic to what a business is, and thus the focus on managing it better, and centrally, is a positive step,” he states. “We’ve all seen the explosion of data in enterprises, as the use of big data systems begins to take root, including the ability to finally leverage data for a true strategic business advantage.”

I can’t argue with that. Can you?

Linthicum offers a bulleted list of advantages that large organizations could gain from appointing a CDO. For instance, he says a CDO could help the organization achieve a common approach to data integration. I suspect that alone would pay for the position.

Most of his column discusses how CDOs could help steer organizations through what’s coming in data analytics. This is one of those problems that every data expert and vendor seems to be discussing right now.

Why? Organizations want to run more complex analytics by incorporating external data and events, but the truth is, their capabilities are still largely limited to BI reporting. That’s very different from advanced or predictive analytics. Things are going to get dicey as enterprises try to shift toward predictive analytics and adding a broader, market context to data.

His argument makes sense to me, but like I said, I’m biased toward the significance of data.

Reading through his thorough and rational argument for a CDO, I realized there’s actually a very simple, single reason why a CDO makes sense: No one else is doing the job.

Seriously. Why the heck would anyone or any group volunteer for tackling the data problems that organizations today face? Data isn’t just growing; it’s more complex. Even if you have a good handle on big datasets  — and let’s face it, most organizations do not — as the Internet of Things comes online, all of that is only going to accelerate to real time.

So, yes, there’s a real business case for appointing a CDO. In fact, considering the challenges, there might be an argument for a separate data division.



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