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In a recent webinar, John Ladley, president of data management consultancy IMCue Solutions, emphasized the growing importance of chief data officers to companies. In fact, he said 2015 "might be the year of the CDO," predicting an increase in CDO jobs as organizations look to get more business value from their data assets.
Ladley said CDOs have a key role to play in data governance, data strategy and data quality initiatives. He pointed out that overlapping responsibilities between other members of the C-suite leadership team -- such as the CIO, CSO, and chief marketing, customer and product officers -- requires a lot of organizational cooperation on data management processes.
"All of them want data to be managed more effectively now," he said. "All of them want to streamline and consolidate things. That's where the CDO, or other similar title, is going to be very important."
Governance reins in CDO's grasp
For example, one significant task that a CDO should handle is serving as the head of an organization's data governance program, according to Ladley. "Effective CDOs are in charge of governance, period," he said. Other functions he listed that typically are a part of CDO jobs include managing a data quality strategy and justifying investments in quality improvement efforts; keeping data aligned with business strategies as plans and requirements change; and making sure the data being stored in a company's systems has real value to the business.
During his presentation, hosted by data management educational resources provider Dataversity, Ladley noted that a chief data officer isn't the same thing as a CIO. Instead of being a replacement, he said, the CDO role is an additional position that is becoming increasingly necessary because of "the velocity of data, the importance of data [and] the rising of data as a significant strategic asset."
Dataversity CEO Tony Shaw joined in to say that at a high level, CIOs tend to be responsible for managing technology infrastructure, while CDOs focus on ensuring that companies can maximize the value of data. "One other difference," Ladley added, "is the CIO tends to have applications. They're at one part of the data supply chain -- the create-and-update aspect. The CDO is that offsetting body saying, 'Well, is that supply chain the best thing you can do? Are those applications the most effective?' It's that governing, looking-over-your-shoulder aspect."
Business first on CDO skills list
As for what the position entails, Ladley explained that CDO jobs require more business skills than hands-on data management know-how. Although experience with data is helpful, it could come from other situations -- like being a power user or marketing executive -- that give CDOs adequate exposure to using and managing data. "Some of the finer points like metadata [and] data modeling can be learned," he said.
And that kind of education isn't important just for CDOs -- Ladley thinks companies need to focus more on data-related training for employees as a whole. "You have to understand these concepts that are within data governance and data management," he said. "Even the concept of data as an asset requires some education. CDO or not, you'll need to work on these [things] in your organization to move forward."
Ladley sees the growing ranks of CDOs as a natural progression toward better business operations through more effective use of corporate data. "Data drives businesses. Data is the fuel, not the lubricant," he said -- and it's the job of a CDO to help ensure that an organization's data gas tanks are always full.
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