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Data Importance Comes of Age - The Chief Data Officer

Many of us are familiar with many standard executive level titles including CEO (Chief Executive Officer), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), CCO (Chief Compliance Officer), COO (Chief Operating Officer), CIO (Chief Information Officer), CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and CISO (Chief Information Security Officer). In the last decade, large amounts of data and information in many new forms have become more critical to the operation of many organizations. Many are creating a new role, the CDO or Chief Data Officer to help understand and manage the changing data landscape. Gartner estimates that 90 percent of large organizations will have a CDO by 2019 [1], highlighting the growth trend for a role and job title that barely existed 10 years ago.

What is a CDO or Chief Data Officer?

All organizations have an operating structure that is should be aligned with their business operations, but not every organization will have the exact same combination of executive responsibilities. If present, a CDO is expected to be accountable and responsible for the enterprise-wide information or data strategy of an organization. The goal of this role is to both mitigate risk and create opportunity through effective strategy, governance, control, and policy development related to an organization’s life cycle of information and data assets.

Doesn’t a CIO already do that?

Although every organization is slightly different, in an organization with a CIO and CDO, the CIO role is primarily focused on the operation and support of core business systems. While the CDO is focused on strategy, policy and actions around how the organization acquires, stores, archives, destroys, uses and monetizes that data. CDOs are often expected to have very strong business intelligence and analytics backgrounds to ensure that there is practicality, best practices and action behind strategy and decisions. In an organization with only a CIO present, the CIO role with the support of compliance, legal and specialized technical staff will often own both the operation and support of core business systems and many of the highlighted CDO responsibilities.

The following exhibit, from an article published by Rich Cohen and Ara Gopal, in Analytics Magazine Online titled “Chief Data Officer: New seat in the C-suite” does an excellent job of highlighting core functions for two different organization types. The full article is a very good read for those interested in additional information (2).

Exhibit 1: CDO Function

Why do I need a CDO?

There are a few core reasons for the need for a CDO in organizations today.

Organizations are being overwhelmed with large and ever growing amounts of data

We live in a world that is producing a large and an ever increasing amount of data and organizational data growth parallels that societal trend.

An article titled, “Surprising Facts and Stats About The Big Data Industry”, on the Cloudtweaks website by Daniel Price further details the volume of data, “The amount of data is growing exponentially. Today, our best estimates suggest that at least 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced every day (that’s 2.5 followed by a staggering 18 zeros!) …Looking forward, experts now predict that 40 zettabytes of data will be in existence by 2020. Three years ago, the entire World Wide Web was estimated to contain approximately 500 exabytes – which is 5 billion gigabytes, but only half of one zettabyte” [3] [a].

SAP highlights and emphasizes the amount of data growth on their business intelligence section of their website, “vast zettabytes of data flowing from our computers, mobile devices, and machine sensors” [4].

The type of data and opportunity from that data is evolving

Non-traditional data was often viewed as having little value and discarded as organizations historically focused on standard transaction based data due to storage constraints, costs and the lack of innovative technology to exploit it. Today, as costs have come down and technology has evolved to harvest the value of this data many organizations are now leveraging and monetizing many sources of information.

IBM highlights the opportunity and breadth of data on their Big Data website, “… data is being generated by everything around us at all times. Every digital process and social media exchange produce it. Systems, sensors and mobile devices transmit it...” [5].

As more commerce moves online, many brick and mortar retailers have looked to specialized data driven solutions from companies like V-Count [6] and Ipsos Retail Performance [7] to collect, understand and analyze in-store customer behavior to drive retail footfall, improve customer experience, map customer visits and measure the impact of new marketing concepts and products.

This story is not unique to the retail industry, many industries are gaining new insight and opportunity driven by creative usage of new types of data and information.

The tools to leverage that information are rapidly changing

There are many tools and technologies that an organization can consider to harness the business power of data, provided they are aware they exist and can create a strategy around them. These tools rapidly appear and evolve in the marketplace and a few examples highlight some recent innovations and the importance of staying current.

Apache Hadoop, the widely used open-source software framework leveraged by many Big Data projects for distributed storage and distributed processing of very large data sets of structured and unstructured information, was created in 2005.

SAP Hana, an in-memory computing platform combines database, application processing, and integration services on a single platform entered the market in late 2010.

In late 2015, MicroStrategy released MicroStrategy 10.1, introducing many new capabilities including extended support for data preparation and blending, which now empowers a business user with the ability to prepare data directly in the MicroStrategy Desktop or Web product and significantly altered the need for IT involvement or the use of third-party ETL tools.

In 2015, Microsoft released Power BI which provides data capabilities to create interactive visualizations, reports and dashboards in an easy to use click, drop and drag format to manipulate and work with files that are too big for Excel.

The regulations and risk associated with that data is growing

As the amount and type of data organizations store, access and utilize increase, the risk and responsibilities regarding this data also rise. The following examples highlight some specific data risks and the need for policies and procedures that help manage those risks.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reported an increase in privacy related complaints rising from 12,974 in 2013 to 17,779 in 2014 (8).

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) and the Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information (“Privacy Rule”) establishes, a set of national standards for the protection of certain health information. These standards address the use and disclosure of individuals’ protected health information by organizations subject to the Privacy Rule. Violations of HIPAA can have big consequences. A Massachusetts hospital, in 2015 paid out $218,000 for permitting employees to use a Web-based file-sharing application to store patients' protected health information [9].

Does a CDO make sense for your organization?

That is an individual question, but at a minimum an organization needs to ensure that it has a structure where the strategy and responsibilities around data are clearly accounted for to both mitigate risk and seize opportunity.

For those CDOs looking for direction as this role evolves there are several CDO-centric organizations including the International Society of Chief Data Officers (ISCDO) [10] a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the MIT Chief Data Officer and Information Quality Program and the MIT Sloan School of Management that can help provide guidance, training and peer collaboration.

References and Citations

  1. Gartner Website Press Release, 9/25/2016, "Gartner Estimates That 90 Percent of Large Organizations Will Have a Chief Data Officer by 2019", Rob van der Meulen and Viveca Woods, Dated for release January 26, 2016,

  2. Analytics Magazine Online, Website, 9/25/2016, “Chief Data Officer: New seat in the C-suite”, Rich Cohen and Ara Gopal,

  3. Cloudtweaks Website, 9/25/2016, “Surprising Facts and Stats About The Big Data Industry”, Daniel Price

  4. SAP Website, 9/25/2015,

  5. IBM Website, 9/25/2016,

  6. V-Count Website, , 9/25/2016,

  7. Ipsos Retail Performance Website, , 9/25/2016,

  8. Department of Health and Human Services, Website, 9/25/2015,

  9. Healthcare Finance Website, 9/25/2016, “Massachusetts HIPAA fine shows the financial risk in healthcare breaches”,

  10. The International Society of Chief Data Officers (ISCDO) Website, 9/25/2016,


(a) What is a zettabyte? A zettabyte (ZB) is a unit of measure for computer memory or data storage, 1 ZB = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.

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