The building of a digital business that leverages IT to make processes more efficient is all the rage these days. That construction, however, requires organizations to actually manage data as an asset, rather than a burden.
At least on paper, the chief information officer (CIO) is responsible for all things within the organization that relate to information. In practice, however, many CIOs tend to focus on infrastructure rather than information, and often choose to treat all data more or less equally. So, with the rise of Big Data analytics, many organizations have begun to create a role for a chief data officer (CDO), whose primary responsibility is transforming all the data an organization collects into an actual business asset.
Gartner projects that, by the end of 2015, about 25 percent of large global organizations will have a chief data officer in place. The challenge will be delineating where the responsibilities of CDO and CIO begin and end. In theory, the chief data officer is a person with a deep-enough understanding of the nuances of data management to turn all the data an organization collects into a business asset. In practice, the chief data officer is emerging as the leader of the data scientist teams that many organizations are forming around their investments in Big Data platforms.
The degree to which an organization needs a chief data officer depends on the company’s track record with managing data. In organizations where IT has focused more on data than infrastructure, a CDO may not be needed. (Then again, organizations with that sort of data-centric focus tend to have had a CDO in place from day one.)
Didier Bonnet, senior vice president and global practice leader for digital transformation at the IT services firm Capgemini, and co-author of the just-released Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation, suggests that making the transformation to a digital business requires strong leadership—and in some instances may necessitate the appointment of a chief data officer.
“It all depends on where you are coming from in terms of making the transition,” Bonnet said. “We’re definitely seeing some diffusion of titles. But long term a lot of these roles often prove to be temporary.”
Regardless of the permanence of the titles, Bonnet believes the critical factor is an ability to reinvent processes across multiple disciplines within the organization; accomplishing that usually requires singular focus on the problem at hand at the organization’s leadership level.
Yael Cosset, CIO of Dunnhumby, a provider of a Big Data analytics service used widely by retailers, notes that how organizations are structured today will vary widely, based on their size and culture.
“It will be a case-by-case situation,” Cosset said. “You need somebody focused on the data strategy. Historically, the CIO has been focused on infrastructure.”
In many instances, the chief data officer is often the IT corollary to the chief digital officer. The chief digital officer is usually a marketing person who is technically savvy enough to understand the impact that technologies such as social networking, mobile computing, and analytics and cloud computing (SMAC) are having on the business. That function usually requires access to someone with the IT skills to marshal the organization’s data resources.
Paul Appleby, worldwide executive vice president of sales and marketing for BMC Software, says that, as the shift to digital business strategies continues to evolve, vendors such as BMC are seeing a much broader array of C-level titles making IT-related decisions: “As organizations become a digital business they start to think in terms of IT as competitive weapon… We think it’s important for all these people to create a partnership that allows them to work together.”
The challenge is that, as noble a goal as working collaboratively together might be, the history of organizational behavior is littered with turf wars between different teams that don’t view one other as allies engaged in a common cause. Make sure your CIO and CDO don’t enter the same age-old battle.
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