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In Praise of the CDO

I’d like to reiterate my encouragement to large organizations everywhere to invest in a CDO. No, not a collateralized debt obligation, but a chief data officer.

Those of you who know me understand that this has long been an important issue in my mind. I raised it again last month at a Bloomberg Roundtable. And, coincidently, a week later Bank of America announced that John Bottega, former CDO for the Federal Reserve Bank, would become the company’s first chief data officer. High profile appointments like Mr. Bottega’s are important because they underscore the value a CDO can bring to a major enterprise.

One other important attribute of the CDO is they typical report directly to the Chief Executive Officer or have accountability to the board of directors. This is an important distinction as there is no disputing the authority or charter of the CDO.

It would be difficult to imagine any substantial company running its information technology operations without a chief information officer. CIOs have a strategic grasp of how an enterprise’s IT assets further the organization’s mission. For many years, the CIO could also take the key leadership position in areas of data integration, data management, business intelligence, data standards, data governance, and more. Not any longer.

In most large enterprise organizations today, the CIO generally appoints multiple individuals to oversee those critical information areas. But, as that partial list of responsibilities reveals, that approach can lead to inevitable overlap of responsibilities, which can unleash unnecessary political infighting and costly bottlenecks as organizations attempt to exploit data at a strategic level. A CDO can eliminate the tedium of data turf wars in an enterprise.

More critically, by treating data as worthy of a C-level role inside an organization, companies will become more nimble when it comes to exploiting their information because they will have someone leading a team who lives to derive value from data. Indeed, as Deloitte Consulting’s Jane Griffin wrote, CDOs “typically function proactively by championing data as a strategic business asset and a driver of revenue.”
Enterprises that employ CDOs are likely to be the organizations that get first mover competitive advantages in their markets. While this has always been the case, it is critical now because of the influx of Big Data and the problems and opportunities it raises for companies. In fact, I might go so far as to say, that any company engaged in Big Data issues without a CDO to lead the way stands a good chance of drowning under its data deluge.

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