Will the real chief data officer please stand up?

Some question the need for a new C-level position, arguing that a company's chief “information” officers should be overseeing an organization's data.

“The CDO’s sole focus is data—how to manage data as an asset and convert it into tangible business value. And as assets go, data is our sole non-degrading, non-depletable, durable, strategic asset.”

—Peter Aiken, president of DAMA and co-founding director of Data Blueprint.

In 2003, Capital One named Cathryne Clay Doss the industry’s first chief data officer. Since then, the CDO position has slowly started to appear on executive rosters, primarily at large public institutions that are flooded by data. The need for someone to manage data as an increasingly critical corporate asset is clear. But how this role fits into the organization is hotly debated.

The public sector has been the first to recognize the position. The state of Colorado and the cities of San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, and New York have recently hired CDOs. The U.S. Army and the Federal Communications Commission now have CDOs. And the Federal Reserve and the National Institutes of Health plan to name CDOs this year.

The private sector is quickly following the government’s lead as more companies embrace big data. Peter Aiken, president of Data Management International (DAMA) and co-founding director of Data Blueprint, predicts that half of all Fortune 500 companies will hire a CDO in the next two years1.

“The CDO’s sole focus is data—how to manage data as an asset and convert it into tangible business value. And as assets go, data is our sole non-degrading, non-depletable, durable, strategic asset,” says Aiken.

Is the CDO an IT or a business leader?

The CDO role remains somewhat ill-defined and even controversial. In some organizations, the CDO reports to the CIO or CTO and is considered part of IT. In others, the CDO holds a business role, reporting to the CEO, or in the case of San Francisco, to the mayor.

Some are wary of adding another operational officer, arguing that the CIO should be overseeing the company’s data. According to Aiken, however, the CIO has a broad charter that encompasses too many areas of responsibility to pay close enough attention to data management.

“Your chief financial officer is focused on implementing the company’s financial strategy; they don’t do bookkeeping,” he says. “You need an individual solely dedicated to the function of data. They need to be unconstrained by IT project mindset. And they need to report directly to the business in order to fully understand the impact of the important job that they do.”

Window of opportunity

Whether or not a company appoints a CDO or assigns the responsibilities to its current CIO or another leader may depend on the size of the company and the amount of data it manages. In the meantime, while executives wrangle over the position, someone needs to take responsibility for the data management strategy. Could that be you?

For more information on the role of the chief data officer in leveraging big data, see Perspectives, the Informatica blog.

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