Are Businesses Back-Tracking on Chief Data Officers?

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    A recent Information Management article argues that chief data officers (CDOs) are making “gradual gains” this year. The piece backs this up with a list of recent appointments, as well as a stat from Experian that says roughly 60 percent of chief information officers hope to hire CDOs this year.

    With all due respect, I disagree. In fact, there are several signs that CDOs as a concept may falter, and their functions may be absorbed by other existing roles.

    First, the list actually includes only one CDO appointment. That was at Clinical Ink, a company that develops health care patient engagement technology. Obviously, that’s a step forward, but if I may be frank, I’m a bit surprised a company like that didn’t already have a chief data officer, since their work is patient engagement.

    Another appointment was Julien Braun as RadiumOne’s senior director of data and platform, EMEA. Previously, Braun was Zenith Optimedia France’s chief data officer, so this is a shift to consulting work, where the titles and responsibilities are different, but technically, a director is not a chief data officer. Still, I’ll give them that one, since he’ll lead EMEA’s data as it expands across Europe.

    Second — and here’s the one that really gave me pause — the article points out that the design and engineering company Atkins is expanding CIO Richard Cross’s responsibilities to include chief digital officer responsibilities.

    “Admittedly, chief digital officer and chief data officer roles aren’t exactly the same,” the article notes. “But their responsibilities are similar — increasingly focused on how data is gathered and monetized. CEO Uwe Krueger said Cross will focus on opportunities across cloud, big data, social media and the consumerization of IT.”

    Okay, nice to know – but does anyone else think adding data responsibilities to the CIO’s hectic job misunderstands the need for a CDO role entirely?

    Certainly, there are signs that most CIOs aren’t interested in the additional workload. As Information Management notes, a November survey by Experian found that “60 percent of CIOs hope to hire CDOs within the next 12 months to help their organizations gather, manage, protect, optimize and monetize data.” But Experian also notes that 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.” The full report goes on to outline a host of problems that are keeping CIOs from using data assets effectively already.

    I don’t know the situation at Atkins and I’m not questioning their judgment here. And certainly I’ve seen a few CDO news announcements here and there, although not as many as I would have expected. So the juxtaposition of CDO announcements with the Atkins announcement made me wonder: Is it possible that data duties are being “tacked on” to other jobs, rather than translating into new hires?

    Last year, Randy Bean, CEO and managing partner of consultancy NewVantage Partners, was sure organizations would embrace the CDO role, but now he’s not so sure.

    “Banks like Capital One Financial Corp., regarded by many as being at the forefront of data and analytics, have steadfastly avoided naming a CDO,” Bean writes in an April Wall Street Journal post. “Leading insurance companies have largely bypassed naming a CDO, opting to organize the functions of the CDO under a range of roles — chief risk officer, chief analytics officer, or head of informatics. Asset management firms have mostly sidestepped naming a CDO. Other industry sectors – life sciences, high tech, media, retail, and manufacturing – have been slow to adopt the CDO position.”

    Even among organizations that have appointed CDOs, there is uncertainty about the role.

    “There is not a standard model for the CDO role,” Bean adds. “Most CDO organizations are small, with limited budgets and limited authority.”

    One reason the role may have limited success is that CDOs are mostly appointed when other CXOs disagree about data.

    “CIOs and CMO don’t always see eye to eye, but those organizations that have trouble in that relationship tend to be the ones we see emergence of these more contemporary roles, chief data officer and chief digital officer for example,” mUmBRELLA quotes Forrester Research VP Carl Doty as saying at a recent Adobe Summit. “I view those kind of roles as a bit of a short term fix for the dysfunction that lies between these two parts of the organizations.”

    So do you need a chief data officer? In 2013, Thomas C. Redman, aka “the Data Doc,” offered a checklist in a Harvard Business Review blog for deciding. Basically, it comes down to your response to one question: Are you going to compete with data?

    “A company only needs a Chief Data Officer when it is ready to fully consider how it wishes to compete with data over the long term and start to build the organizational capabilities it will need to do so,” he wrote. “You need to be ready to charge him or her with fully exploring what it takes to compete with data.”

    But times have changed since 2013. In my next post, I’ll talk about why organizations might want to reconsider the need for CDOs.

    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.

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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