The chief data officer role shakes up traditional data management

The different types of organizations

Of course, it is foolish to think of all organizations as the same. The business and data challenges facing a mid-sized US company are dramatically different from those faced by large healthcare organizations and betting companies like Google. Oh, and the legislation is very different based on industry and geography. To expect all organizations to manage or manage their data identically or even similarly is just plain silly.

With regard to traditional data management, my experience shows that there are generally three types of organizations:

  • Type A. Organizations that have already formalized data management throughout the company. Data management here is continuous and systemic. Data management councils, stewards, sponsors and teams are common.
  • Type B. Organizations that informally and invisibly practice data management. That is, you are unlikely to find any advice from these organizations. Ironically, many individuals and groups can perform similar and similar functions, whether they know it or not.
  • Type C. Organizations that ask, “What is data management?” (The word anarchy comes to mind here.)

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Type A and B organizations do well with data management. We leave Pandora’s box closed at the moment.

What happens when an organization appoints its first CDO? Based on big data, how can the CDO (continued) make data management sustainable? The short answer is that it depends on the following three factors:

  • organization Type we are talking about.
  • The presence of other leaders.
  • The culture of the organization.

Data management and the role of Chief Data Officer

At least in theory, Type A organizations may seem best suited to continue successful data management with a new CDO. After all, these companies are already doing things right and doing the right things. But the sailing may not be as smooth as it seems.

One potential challenge: How do the CDO’s responsibilities and / or conflict overlap with established leaders? I am talking here about Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Information Officer (CIO) and even Chief Security Officer (CSO). Forget the intricate org chart for a moment. It is likely that new CDOs in this environment will soon be on the toes of their colleagues. Put another way, in an effort to carve out a niche in the organization, the CDO will take actions – or fail to take actions – that could ultimately cause data management to suffer.

Type B organizations could benefit most from the appointment of a sharp CDO. In fact, if I was pursuing a CDO position, I would look for organizations that already get it. That is, the culture of a new CDO shock here should be minimal for one simple reason: The emotions expressed and actions taken by the CDO only formalize what the organization has already done.

Would a person in the role of Chief Data Officer be able to successfully implement data management in a Type C organization? This is similar to an organ transplant: It will either go splendidly or very badly. Either the culture will embrace what the new CDO brings to the table, or will reject it. I don’t see a middle ground here.

Say goodbye to thoughts

Remember, anointing a CDO is not an elixir for data management issues. And while most organizations may already have formalized elements of a data management framework, that is not enough. Many still need to tie them all together across the business. Sometimes the person who is best suited to get it done is already in place. In other cases, placing a person in the role of Head of Data Detector may represent the best course of action.

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