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Why companies need Chief Data Officers

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At Gartner’s annual Symposium, held recently in Cape Town, South Africa, discussion turned to the emerging role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO). Analyst Saul Judah from the global research and analysis firm’s London office reflected on what this new role entails and why it is the best interest of companies to create the position.

Gartner analyst Saul Judah at Gartner's Symposium (image: Charlie Fripp)
Gartner analyst Saul Judah at Gartner’s Symposium (Image source: Charlie Fripp)

“Who is responsible for the data management in an organisation? The CIO doesn’t have time, and it’s fairly low on his list, and is often delegated to other people who aren’t the right ones to take care of it. There are very few people and organisations who have invested in the position, simply because they want to face the challenges that the particular role will face,” Judah told delegates.

He also delved into the question of whether data management is a board and an executive priority, saying that the answer to this question will differ depending on who is asked in the organisation.

Judah said that the CEO, COO, CFO and the CIO will have differing views on the creation of a CDO.

“The CIO will ultimately understand all the challenges that will be faced. The ability to have a CDO needs to be higher up on the priority list. The board is interested in value – funding versus results. The availability of big data dramatically widens the gap between actual and possible value for most organisations, and strategies and initiatives to close that gap is paramount. The gap also translates to a credibility gap, but the potential is huge,” he added.

With that in mind, Judah said that key drivers behind the establishment of a CDO include the fact that by 2015 more data-quality-focused roles will reside in business units than in IT. These roles will be formalised via funding and will have specific goals based on an accountable structure.

He added that businesses should use statistical models of big data to better understand the business model and technology provides companies with a means to review their models if required.

“Regulators are now telling financial institutions that they need a CDO role to manage the reliability and traceability of the business’ data. Boards are directing some CEOs to address data management by appointing an executive to take overall responsibility for the data. CEOs and CFOs are coming on-board and looking around at the shape of data management and concluding that their organisation needs a CDO.”

The CDO drives the extraction of value from enterprise data according to the highest standards of integrity, reliability, interoperability and authenticity.

Judah asked: “Does your organisation need a CDO? Well, I don’t know. I can’t give you the silver bullet, but I can certainly give you the options.”

What exactly is the role of a CDO?  According to Judah this position requires an individual to have a clear view of information principles and consider what policies are going to be put in place, as well as relevant standards.

Judah was quick to add that the role of Chief Data Officer is “not a one-man thing” and these individuals will actually benefit if they are surrounded by a team. “A Data Governance Workgroup also needs to be created that makes data governance successful. In the DGW, principles, policies and standards need to be mandatory.”

“The CDO isn’t a lone wolf and they need a team with muscle. There needs to be roles that are in the realm of the CDO. It has to be done in a team to drive the initiative forward. CDOs need to research and map the shape of data ownership in the organisation, organise the office of the CDO and build a team to support the CDO.”

Judah urged potential CDOs to engage with their company’s internal audit team. “It is important that they listen to IT complaints about data, and it would be worth talking to the internal audit team. They have experience on things that work and doesn’t work, and they can drive support from the beginning.”

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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