A few signs show that organizations might be retreating from the idea of a chief data officer. Instead, some organizations are adding strategic data functions to the CIO’s job. But is that enough or does the growing demand require a dedicated data executive?
Here are three reasons why I think organizations may want to embrace chief data officers.
First, as I shared in my last piece, most CIOs don’t want the data officer task. Experian surveyed CIOs last November and found that an incredible 92 percent of CIOs “are calling out for a CDO role to release the data pressures they face and enable a corporate wide approach to data management.” Call me crazy, but to me, it’s pretty clear that the people who have thus far handled the job say it needs a separate role.
It’s not so much that CIOs aren’t up to the task as that the CIO role isn’t designed for it. As Gartner Fellow and VP Debra Logan noted last year, IT has traditionally managed data, but that still leaves a huge gap in data strategy.
“There is no coherent leadership strategy around corporate assets,” Logan told CIOs. “When retiring an asset, have you been able to get a straight answer from your business on how long to keep the data? They aren’t making decisions, and you can’t make the decisions about the data.”
The end result? No one is in charge. That was a good reason to hire a CDO last year, and it’s a good reason now — except that very soon, even more data will be compounding the problem.
That brings me to the second reason you should seriously consider a CDO: The Internet of Things comes online.
You can’t swing a bat in the tech press without seeing some jarring statistic about the Internet of Things, so I won’t insult you with more of that. Still, when most people think of the IoT, FitBits spring to mind, making it easy to underestimate the business case for this data. You might not think of the IoT in terms of, say, customer service.
Yet, research firm Frost & Sullivan believes the Internet of Things will become a “cornerstone” of excellent customer service, Information Management reported last week. That’s because Frost & Sullivan foresee the IoT generating new device-as-a-service strategies that will generate new data and more control over products.
Someone needs to manage that data, and Martin Doyle makes a good case for why it should be the CDO in this recent Data Science Central post. Beyond managing data strategy, Doyle points out that a CDO can provide leadership on data quality, data lifecycle and compliance which, as NewVantage Partners consultant and CEO Randy Bean points out, is what jumpstarted the CDO role in the first place.
“From the Internet of Things to increasingly sophisticated web analytics, businesses are going to need to be more selective about data, and store only the data that really matters to them,” Doyle writes. “If your business collects data, stores it and uses it to determine strategy, a Chief Data Officer could be the key person who will commit to high data quality across the business.”
Finally, here’s the third reason you should consider a CDO: the proliferation of dark data, a rather ominous term for the unstructured data that’s created during regular business activities, but is otherwise unused by analytics or BI systems.
Now, quite possibly, it is useless, but who knows? It’s sitting in the cyber ether, taking up space, but otherwise forgotten.
Often, IT will know about the dark data, but have no idea who it belongs to or whether it’s important, writes Murli Mohan, director & general manager, Dell Software Group, at TechRadar. Even if IT manages to clean it up once, that won’t stop the accumulation of more data clutter, he warns.
“Hoarding being a bad practice is not appreciated by many of us but how do things get so muddled?” Mohan writes. “Most organizations have a poor governance process for granting access to unstructured data. Because they are unable to determine who owns the data, they continue to collect more orphaned files in repositories like file shares and group folders. I've found that many companies will admit to having a problem managing unstructured data, but they seem to accept it as a cost of doing business.”
He encourages individuals to take responsibility by following a six-step process. Great idea, but what are the chances of busy business users actually following his advice, or, for that matter, even reading a six-step process? I’m going with slim to none without someone to lead the charge. Even if every individual were to clean up their dark data, there would still be dark data. That’s because the Internet of Things and operational systems also create dark data. Teradata contends that this dark data can be valuable, especially for supply chains, in the “factories of the future.”
Ultimately, organizations need CDOs for the same reason they need any CXOs: Someone needs to be both accountable and have the power to enforce accountability within the organization. As data becomes more of an opportunity and challenge, it makes sense to appoint a chief data officer to manage both.
Loraine Lawson is a veteran technology reporter and blogger. She currently writes the Integration blog for IT Business Edge, which covers all aspects of integration technology, including data governance and best practices. She has also covered IT/Business Alignment and IT Security for IT Business Edge. Before becoming a freelance writer, Lawson worked at TechRepublic as a site editor and writer, covering mobile, IT management, IT security and other technology trends. Previously, she was a webmaster at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and a newspaper journalist. Follow Lawson at Google+ and on Twitter.