The Amorphous CDO Role Takes Shape


It's interesting to see that the Chief Data Officer role seems to be proving its value, at least in federal agencies. However, I think the important part of a new Meritalk survey about government CDOs is that the CDO role itself may be getting some clarification.

Credit:Pixabay
Credit:Pixabay

For the past couple of years there have been plenty of advocates for the addition of a CDO in enterprise-level organizations. However, elements like the exact responsibilities, where the CDO fits in the org chart, and how the CDO differs from the CIO have been kind of vague. Lots of people have had varied ideas about the CDO role.

The new study by Meritalk, funded by Vion, Calling the Plays: The Evolving Role of the CDO and Federal Big Data provides some insight into what a CDO really does for a living.

One caution about the research -- when it discusses matters such as what percentage of federal agencies that have a CDO are finding positive results. There were 150 respondents from agencies, but it's a bit unclear how many actually have a CDO in place today. For the record, the report says, "Agencies with a CDO are significantly more likely to be successfully managing big data than those without 69% to 40%."

So, what are the CDO's responsibilities in the federal agencies?

Two thirds of the agencies with a CDO (76%) say that the executive "has taken ownership over data management and governance issues." That's still kind of mushy.

But the primary responsibilities are more concrete:

  • Centralizing organizational data (55%)
  • Protecting organizational data (51%)
  • Improving data quality (49%)
  • Managing open government data efforts (43%)
  • Bridging the gap between IT and operations (43%)
  • Leveraging data to help set and achieve realistic goals (41%)

One responsibility not listed here is that of being an advocate for the use of data in decision making and in innovation. On the surface, the "leveraging data" responsibility could include an advocacy role. However, I read that one as being more about finding data to respond to requests rather than being proactive in seeking out data that can change the way business gets done. That's where innovation comes into play.

While the adoption of data analytics and a data mindset are crucial for improving decision making and efficiency in existing applications, the CDO should be positioned to identify opportunities for new ways of doing business. CDOs don't want to be limited to changing government forms to collect additional data types. They should be looking at existing and new data sources, perhaps in other agencies or in the public sector, that will help their own agencies provide better, even new, services. That's the whole big data concept. Maybe they could even help shrink the federal bureaucracy. So, my wish list for the CDO job description includes a call for innovation. What would you add to that job description, whether the CDO works in the public sector or in private business?

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James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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Re: CDO Status
  • 1/14/2017 10:33:03 AM
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Our human brains seem to usually want to explain past events, and we sometimes take some circuitous routes to get to some explanations. Hence, tragic events are expalined afterward in stories that will vary depending on the explainers own biases and background. It's not often easy to know the truth of the matter other than what we might consider the best evidence or data available.

Re: CDO Status
  • 12/25/2016 8:32:47 PM
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May have to check that book out - interesting aspect on how people respond to the unexpected (which is what accidents/murders/strange events are).

Re: Awarness training
  • 12/23/2016 9:56:23 AM
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@Broadway it's rather like marketing-speech -- something that sounds like it reflects a huge benefit without promising real specifics you can look for.

Re: Awarness training
  • 12/23/2016 9:55:26 AM
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@kq4ym good point! You're right that it really doesn't mean that much because the CDO's job is managing or making sure someone is managing the data. Obviously then the organization can claim to manging better than a company that doesn't have such a role in place. But -- and tht just may be why the Met let the one it hired go -- that's not quite the same as demonstrating ROI in tangible terms.

Re: Awarness training
  • 12/22/2016 10:53:46 PM
NO RATINGS

That statement is so self-evident that it's ridiculous to even be written without more specifics to follow --- agreed. Then again, some evidence that CDOs are so effective and important in that exposition would be equally helpful.

Re: Awarness training
  • 12/22/2016 4:26:20 PM
NO RATINGS

Yes, thosse tasks should probably be included in the responsibilites. I'm wondering though about the report advising "Agencies with a CDO are significantly more likely to be successfully managing big data," and just what it may mean to be "successfully managing." Like the definitions need of being more precise, the tasks for the federal government CDO should also be defined well for the particular agency employer.

Awarness training
  • 12/22/2016 3:40:05 PM
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A CDO should also be responsible for setting up awareness training on security, risk managment, thrests and data gaps and bulding teams to help one another out when an incident occurs. the teams should have tools to catch the would-be hackers before they launch attacks against big data. In short, s good awareness training can change a participant's indifferent attitude toward security and big data to that of proactive attitude.

 

 

Re: CDO Status
  • 12/22/2016 1:52:57 PM
NO RATINGS

@jmeyerson the original publication date was 1984 I could give you the links that show that, but then the comment wouldn't go through. I know some of the things in the book were changed in later editions, but as the section on accidents begins with the infamous account of Kitty Genovese's murder, I'd think that is part of the original text.

Re: CDO Status
  • 12/22/2016 1:43:56 PM
NO RATINGS

@Jim That's quite a story! You never know how you end up connected to somoene you help. But it also points out how most people just don't think about what they can do to help in those situations. As you say, the person in the accident may even have a phone but be too much in shock to think about using it to get help. 

Re: CDO Status
  • 12/22/2016 9:38:53 AM
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I fully agree.

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