Taking Care of Big Data
As technology evolves, job titles become much more diversified. University students are currently being trained for jobs whose descriptions don’t yet exist. This is true at all levels in business. Currently, we are seeing one more type of C-level executive entering the business world and carving out its place, the Chief Data Officer (CDO).
Speculation about the (new) functions of the CDO is ubiquitous; how is his role different from that of the chief information officer (CIO)? What does the CDO do? How does he fit into the C-Suite?
The Rise of Big Data
The first time that the term “big data” appeared was in 1998; it was coined by John Mashey in his Silicon Graphics (SGI) slide deck, “Big data and the Next Wave of Infrastress”. The term was relevant from the outset, referring to the huge and increasing amounts of data which were becoming increasingly more complex and unmanageable to process. The first CDO was appointed in 2003 at Capital One, a US financial institution. So, the job title is not exactly new in the corporate landscape. However, its importance is rising as the need for Big Data experts becomes ever more urgent.
The job of the CDO is to focus not only on big data for better data mining and analysis; he must create new solutions and approaches to control the volume of data. On the surface, this assignment of roles makes sense, but the question arises: What happened to the data analyst and the CIO? From one point of view, the (not-so-) new CDO title Is unnecessary; from another, the CDO could be a real asset for a company in redefining its data approach and in making big data profitable.
The Role of the CDO Defined
The trend of having CDOs is increasing very quickly. Only a few short years ago, the CDO position was adopted by companies at the rate that their data expanded (although perhaps not at the same exponential factor). In fact, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made a recent statement in creating a CDO for every department, a total of 10 CDOs for 10 bureaus and offices. The Federal Reserve and the National Institute of Health also plans to name a CDO to take charge of their data structure. So, what are the attributes of this new superhero?
The CDO has to set up a pro-data culture where information is collected and shared effectively to serve the bottom line of the company in terms of getting ROI (return on investment).
The main goal of the CDO is to establish a strong data strategy that includes all data inside a company. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the principal functions of the CDO, from the Executive Report, The Role of Chief Data Officer in the 21st Century by the Cutter Consortium:
The CDO must organize and execute everything – policies, procedures, structures, roles, and responsibilities – that is required for planning and supporting decision rights, rules of engagement, and accountability for proper management of data assets.
The CDO must determine the maturity and effectiveness of 5 key data quality levels (uncertainty, awakening, enlightenment, wisdom, certainty) in the company.
The CDO must establish a uniform and common data system and methodology for data naming and acronyms, data modeling, data defect thresholds, data quality improvement, security, privacy, and so on.
The CDO is responsible for BI, a configuration and compilation of combined databases and decision-support applications which together allow easy access to business data.
The CDO has to carefully consider the use of cloud storage; huge volumes of data makes cloud storage a pertinent option, but the benefits must be weighed against the cost and the risk of exposing data.
Security and Privacy
The CDO works with the security department to determine the level of data security appropriate to the company.
With these new guidelines, the CDO is perceived as being data savvy and capable of changing and improving the big data culture of a company. Should the CDO be a permanent executive or a temporary consultant who trains employees and guides and remodels a company’s data approach only for the duration of his contract?
What about the CIO?
Among CIOs, there is divided opinion on the issue of big data. Some do not see managing it as a great challenge and others think it is a handicapping event. This could be why many companies want CDOs on their teams to have an objective point of view about the big data they own. But a CDO can’t replace a CIO. CIOs can be released from data management to focus on infrastructure and creating value from the use of technology. It is too soon to predict the long-term future for either titles. For now, it can be said that the CDO title has gained much acceptance in the last 10 years and that CIOs are still critical for businesses.
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