The Rise of the Chief Data Officer

June 15, 2016  |  Chuck Brooks

The volume of data available to and collected by the public and private sectors has exponentially grown in each subsequent year. Industry has reacted to the rapid proliferation of information being generated and shared across verticals and with customers. Data has become such an essential component to many companies that a new strategic role of Chief Data Officer (CDO) has emerged in the C-suite.

This commercial trend has also transcended to government, including in the current US Administration. Initially, the White House hired a top digital technologist to serve as the nation’s “chief data scientist in residence,” later the position evolved into of U.S. Chief Technology Officer. Prior to that, the Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, USDA, the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services, the FCC, Federal Reserve and other independent agencies announced the implementation of Chief Data Officer roles.

The rise of the Chief Data Officer is an exciting and transformational change that elevates the significance of data. This evolution clearly acknowledges that the data being collected is a separate entity from the systems running it. The creation of the CDO role is a testament to the growing importance that both the public and private are placing on data and data management. It also brings transparency, efficiency, and innovation into the executive process.

Serving in the CDO role is not an easy task since it requires tech-savvy and leadership capabilities. A CDO should possess strong executive management skills and assume responsibility for developing managers who will work in systematically to ensure that data is treated as a strategic asset. A CDO should also work in tandem with the Chief Privacy Officer and the Chief Information Security Officer to ensure that there are unified standards. Security and integrity of that data are essential, especially in an environment where companies and agencies are facing a multitude of cybersecurity threats and are having their data regularly breached.

The bulk of time and effort for any CDO should be directed internally, at least initially because of its volume and complexities and to gain insights into the historical commercial or cultural uses of the data. Every company or government agency has a unique mission and data profile.

A requirement for the CDO role is to understand the mission and of how to best cultivate and interpret the data and internal resource. With the advances in computing technology and algorithms, incorporating levels of analytics to unattached and unstructured data sources and building in an automation capability has become fundamental to the process. Bringing meaning to the data is a science in itself.

The new digital era of both industry and government is being impacted by profound technological innovation driven by information sharing and analysis. Data has become more than a commodity, it is a driving force that determines how we live, earn, and function as a society. The Chief Digital Officer role is to be the compass to ensure we head in the right direction.

About the Author

Chuck Brooks serves as the Vice President for Government Relations and Marketing at Sutherland Government Solutions. He is also Chairman of CompTIA's New and Emerging Technologies Committee, Cybersecurity Market of the Year (Cybersecurity Excellence Awards), and on the advisory board of several companies and organizations. Brooks served at the Department of Homeland Security as the first director of legislative affairs for the Science and Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a senior adviser to the late Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). He has an MA from the University of Chicago and a BA from DePauw University. Please follow him on Twitter @ChuckDBrooks and on LinkedIn.

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