A Clear Sign You Need a Chief Data Officer

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 A Clear Sign You Need a Chief Data Officer

As an Information Management professional it can often be difficult explaining to friends, family or even just the random person at a cocktail party asking “what do you do for a living?” Personally, I have tried everything from a very simple explanation to the more in-depth version focusing on the business effects and relations that are impacted by data and information management. Admittedly, even when I am met with the nodding gesture indicating that we are on the same page, I still wonder if the mental image for my conversation partner is envisioning an army of people sitting in a room 3 levels below ground level and in front of a wall of screens just cranking out code, further alienating themselves from the average “normal” person working above ground.

Recently I came across a real-life example that serves as a tangible example of “what we do” when a good friend of mine received a rather humorous text from Peter, her brother-in-law, including a picture of the cake he had just picked up for his son’s birthday party the next day. I found it to be a very appropriate vehicle to explain to my friend what our team “does for a living” and why the symptoms of business disruption manifest in the data.

While it’s normal to have light anxiety regarding a correctly spelled name on the cake, it is rare you have to worry about the cake decorator understanding the objective and generally accepted standards for how to write on a birthday cake. In this case, Peter arrives to pick up the cake and is met with the sight of a delicious looking cake with the following words written on the top: “Happy Birthday Silas Telef”. At first glance you might assume Sila’s last name is “Telef”… no big deal. However, his last name is not Telef and Peter never asked for a last name to be added to the cake. He had simply asked for the cake to say “Happy Birthday Silas”. So how does this relate to information management and a Chief Data Officer (CDO)?? I’ll tell you how – the bakery clearly has a defined policy to capture how an order was received, however it may not have been captured in a standard template or fashion. So when the cake decorator received the order form he or she copied down the exact wording – including the notation that this was a telephone order – “Telef”).

This is a clear analogy for information management. In this case, the cake is the physical evidence of a data quality issue. In a business, the physical evidence can be anything from an order being shipped to the wrong customer to large-scale losses and unnecessary expenses. In both situations, the errors could have been avoided by implementing standards and rules that are approved and overseen by the process owners within the line-of-business functions. The most obvious sign for when a company is ready to leverage and benefit from a CDO is when the existing line of business leadership requires facilitation for cross-business sector data that is key to strategic growth.

I have been pleasantly surprised and encouraged over the past 10+ years to see the word Data sneak into formal titles and more frequently paired with titles previously only covering business functions. Titles such as VP of Data & Analytics or Director of Information Management are strong indicators that organizations are waking up to the fact that data is not just a back room activity we can annex off on the side but instead it is a vital part of any operation, innovation cycle and customer satisfaction. The time for a Chief Data Officer seems to be right and necessary when the orchestration of data has to transcend the processes owned by other C-Level or line of business leadership. At a macro-level it is really no different from the order capture and product fulfillment issue with Silas’ cake. The key question is “how do you best embed data into the culture” as the critical crosswalk between processes and a driver of analytics success. Sometimes the new CDO role is necessary to shake up the system, and sometimes it takes stronger accountability among the line-of-business functions to make the cultural change stick.

Just for fun, here are some of the best "data fails" we found. Enjoy!

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