Help Wanted: Chief Data Officer to Own Data Management

Companies Look to a New Role to Own Data

“We’re drowning in data,” expounded Anthony Scriffignano, chief data scientist for Dun and Bradstreet. “Our problem isn't, 'how do we go get more data?' Our problem is ‘how do we make sense out of it?'"

Speaking to a standing room crowd at last month’s Rise of the Chief Data Officer event, hosted by NextGov and Dun & Bradstreet, Scriffignano lamented on the challenges and opportunities organizations face by the enormous deluge of data now at their fingertips and how the burgeoning role of Chief Data Officer may help.

Watch the entire event here.

This is the greatest opportunity right now in the history of mankind – we're creating more data now; we can't even imagine the rate at which it's increasing anymore.
Anthony Scriffignano, Chief Data Scientist

“This is the greatest opportunity right now in the history of mankind – we're creating more data now, we can't even imagine the rate at which it's increasing anymore. How cool is that?” asked Scriffignano. On the other hand, Scriffignano stated, “What a ridiculously big opportunity to mess up if you get it wrong." He went on to describe the vital role a Chief Data Officer plays in making sure this does not happen. The primary role of this position, he explained, should be to identify the best, most reliable data available and explain how they can relate to the mission.

Several public- and private-sector CDOs joined Scriffignano at the event to discuss the role they play within their organizations, what enterprises can accomplish with a CDO and what the position will hold in the future. While there were varying opinions on how the CDO should operate and interact with other executives within the organization, all of the speakers agreed companies must invest in hiring experts that can understand and interpret data.

"Organizations need to be "data centric and data driven,” stated Micheline Casey, CDO for the Federal Reserve Board, in her keynote that addressed the landscape that many professionals who are new to data management face. “Actually having a mindset and a set of incentives and culture and a strategy that aligns resources around actually managing data as an asset is a completely different mindset,” explained Casey when comparing the thinking of a CDO and the traditional CIO that tends to focus more on the technology and infrastructure in place to access the data versus understanding what the data can mean for the business as a whole.

“The reality is, it's really difficult to do this job," Casey said when enlightening the audience on the challenge CDOs face everyday with limited resources and a disjointed hierarchy. "If you're going to do this job well you need resources. You need budget. You can't be a one-person show against an organization of 2,500 or 10,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 people scattered across the country dealing with that much inertia by yourself. That doesn't work." The challenges Casey references are occurring across the board; even governmental agencies, which people often think of “like Big Brother”, have a hard time “connecting the dots,” and therefore need to support the CDO role at the executive level in order to build the structural requirements that far-reaching data undertakings need to change the traditional makeup of the organization.

As for the future of the CDO role? Peter Aiken, big data expert and author in the field believes the CDO role will be a transitional role as well as one that over the next few decades will have people thinking, "Oh, yeah, they were really stupid about how they used data back in the old days because they hadn't figured out how to do it.”

However, in order to reach that potential future, enterprises will need to invest in experts that can not only understand the data, but also have the skills to put that data to work.