Late this summer, Gartner
wrote about the concept of a Chief
Data Officer
(CDO) as one response to the growing importance of big data
presence and initiatives in enterprises.

Since the Gartner post, there has been a flurry of industry
responses. In October, Gartner’s research quantifications were cited, with the
company predicting that by 2014, more than ten
percent of government organizations will have appointed Chief Data Officers,
and more than 20 percent will have appointed Chief Digital Officers
. Still
another reaction was an open-ended thought out to CIOs
as to whether their jobs could be endangered with the importation of new CDOs

Instead, I’d like to submit the idea that what’s going on
now with organizational thinking about CDOs is nothing particularly new or earth-shattering
from what’s happened in the past. At the end of the day, all enterprises want
to optimize their technology investments.


The way that technology optimization is viewed today is through
the effective harnessing and analyzing of big data for actionable results that
impact revenues and costs. Recently, IBM Business Analytics
and Optimization Services
revealed in a call with analysts that those
companies most successful in their big data initiatives had an atmosphere of
confidence and trust around their big data that began with trust between business
executives and functions, and that extended to solid governance policies around
big data that assured its safety and quality.

This success and trust has implications for CIOs and CDOs

We already know that companies well along in their big data
strategies have built or are building data science teams with specialized
knowledge required for big data. At the same time, many are realizing that the
marketplace is in short supply of these specialists – so they are opting to
either “build their own” big data specialists or, at least for a
short time, to outsource the data science tasks to a consultative organization
that has those capabilities.

Someone has to do it

In all cases, there is near universal recognition that someone – whether it is the CIO, the
CDO, the CEO, or some other business leader – must assume ultimate
responsibility for the big data function.

Here are several possibilities:

1. Establish another C-level executive in the person of the CDO

The argument is that the business will be coordinated and
cooperative in its big data work if the CDO position reports directly to the
CEO. However, there are counter-arguments as well. Does another C-level executive
create more infighting
and non-cooperation among high-ranking executives

And what about other newly created “C” positions
like the CSO (Chief Security Officer), CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer) and
CSCO (Chief Supply Chain Officer)? Should these also report to the CEO?

2. Have the CDO answer to business management

The thinking behind this is that the CDO is tied directly
into the business, and this is where big data should be – but it has its
pitfalls because the CDO has too many managers to answer to.

3. Have the CDO report to the CIO.

This can make sense because IT touches every business aspect
in the company – but it’s only going to work if the CIO is visionary, selfless
and dialed into the business.

What do I mean by this?

Simply, that CIOs must understand the specific problems in
the business that technology needs to solve – and they have to support the best
set of goals for the business, even if these goals run against their personal
and professional aspirations.

These CIOs need to be technology-savvy, but a majority of
their time needs to be out in the business, communicating with stakeholders,
and creating a structure where the CDO and the big data team can succeed. CIOs
who are fixated on technology for its own sake or glued to the engine room can’t
do this – nor can this be done in businesses that view the CIO position as “Head
of the Engine Room.”

Can CIOs deliver leadership to CDOs and team with other
C-level executives so the company succeeds with its big data strategies?

“The vast majority of CIOs
are amazing,” said Thornton May, executive director of the IT Leadership
Academy at Florida State College. “They understand the business better
than just about anyone else. They have mad relationship skills and actually
care about their people. They are wicked smart and scary funny. I am so tired
of academics, consultants and vendors beating the ‘they only speak geek’ drum. The
empirical evidence does not support this misconception

Bottom line

May is right; there are great CIOs out there – and also, the
not so great ones. Those with the business savvy, technology smarts, selflessness,
and will to sponsor big data efforts can make positive differences for their
businesses at a time when positive results are eagerly awaited.

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