Meet the Chief Data Officer, the modern corporation’s most important new executive in the age of the cloud.
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If you are lucky, your company already has a CDO – even if that person doesn’t wear that job title. And if you don’t have someone performing this role, you’d better start thinking of hiring one fast, because the CDO may prove to be the key to your success in the years to come.
In my last two columns, I described the changing nature of corporate data and the two pretenders to the job of managing that data – and why they were the wrong choices. To summarize: thanks to the Internet, the cloud, smart phones, and the sensor revolution, the modern corporation is creating mountains of data – from consumer behavior to market research to R&D. The challenge of managing all of this data has created its own huge industry, Big Data, and the rise of powerful new analytical tools.
But it is not enough to accumulate this data; it must also be leveraged inside the organization in a powerful, productivity enhancing way. And that means it must be managed in an intelligent and strategic way. Smart CEO’s are beginning to understand this, and even as they implement Big Data initiatives in their organizations, they are casting about for the right individuals to lead them.
The most likely candidate is the Chief Information Officer – after all, they are chartered with the task of running all of the enterprise’s IT hardware, networks and applications. But CIO’s have proven resistant to managing these new caches of data. Many feel it is outside their purview, others that they have more than enough to do just making sure all of the company’s services and laptops work and can talk to each other.
So, stepping into the resulting vacuum has been the Chief Marketing Officer. They often do so out of necessity, because they desperately need this data to do their jobs successfully. But managing vast quantities of information is hardly the core competency of a marketing executive; and, in our multi-platform/multi-channel media world, marketing professionals have better ways to use their time than sifting through terabytes of mostly junk data to find a few nuggets of useful knowledge. CMO’s typically take on the job because they have no choice, but they rarely do it well.
There remains one last figure in the enterprise, a relative newcomer, who is often pointed to as the proper figure to manage and mine the company’s data: the data scientist. After all, these vaunted individuals are acknowledged experts in the brave new world of the cloud and Big Data, they are scientifically trained to manipulate this data, and more than anyone in the organization, they are on top of the latest data capture, analytical and presentational tools. They seem perfect for the task.
In fact, in real corporate life, data scientists are too perfect. For one thing, they are still exceedingly rare; PhD’s in a still esoteric discipline. And then, even if you manage to find such an individual (and pay the inflated price that goes with high demand/low supply) you will quickly discover that you have hired a research scientist, not a pragmatic manager. Finally, and ultimately the most important reason why data scientists are the wrong people to manage corporate data is that they are just too narrow in their interests. A Data Scientist is someone deeply trained in not only the mechanics of playing with data (tools, maps, etc.), but also likely has an extensive background in statistics and math. In other words, the data scientist is a very sophisticated cross between a programmer and statistician — and their job is to take on big, hairy data problems, to drill down to find solutions. . . to be intentionally narrow in their pursuits. They are people who unravel complicated technical knots, not meet deadlines or pursue improvements in company productivity.
This is not to say that the data scientist is not a valuable figure. On the contrary, companies that face these kinds of deep, complicated, information challenges can find the presence on-site of a data scientist to be hugely valuable. But the truth is that most enterprises don’t need this type of rarified figure – and those that do, will likely find that such an individual needs his or her own manager. And that brings us once again full circle to the need for a senior executive – preferably a ‘C’ level executive, with the independence and authority that comes with that title – who makes the company’s new sources of data wholly his or her own – the executive who advocates for data in the company, whose ultimate goal is to use the data to make the company more efficient, more productive, and ultimately more competitive and profitable.
Enter the Chief Data Officer, the CDO. If you haven’t heard the term, don’t be surprised. By my estimate, at present there are perhaps just 1,000 managers in corporate America who operate as de facto CDOs – and no more than a few score who actually wear that title. As for the rest, they have other titles, such as Data Architect. Very few, as the ‘C’ might suggest, actually report to the CEO – and, in fact, that isn’t really necessary.
Unfortunately, many more are buried deeper in the organization than they should be to be effective. Even more unfortunately, a number are forced to report to the CIO – an individual who, as we’ve seen, has at best goals that are antithetical to the CDO, and at worst may actively try to undermine the CDO. A far better scenario, if the CEO wants to reduce his or her direct reports and span of control, is to place the CDO under the Chief Marketing Officer.
Just who is this CDO? I’ll discuss this person further in my next column. For now, think of him or her as likely being young, ambitious, and very entrepreneurial. Indeed, the CDO is likely to be one of the few people in the company for whom the overworked term ‘intrapreneur’ actually fits. This person loves data and its power to create change. . . but unlike a data scientist (who actually might work for the CDO), the Chief Data Officer is a generalist. He or she doesn’t focus on a single technical problem, but rather looks across the whole landscape of the company’s data and finds ways to put it to use to create change – and ultimately to use that data to make other people in the enterprise successful.
Today, these CDO’s are among the rarest professionals in Corporate America. But mark my words: in the next few years, they will become among the most celebrated – and valuable. And that’s a very good reason to start making a place for the CDO in your organization right now. In my next column, I’ll show you how.
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