If information is the new corporate wealth, who is responsible for maximizing its value, ensuring its proper use, and safeguarding its integrity?
You might be tempted to say "well, isn't that what the CIO does?" but there's a strong case to be made that it's a very distinct role: one with unique skills and accountability.
And since we already have a well-established technology-centric role for the proverbial Chief Information Officer, there's a need to come up with a new label -- hence CDO.
I saw an excerpt from a recent book that tries to make the case for a CDO, so the meme is perhaps coming back en vogue again.
The question remains -- are the conditions right this time?
My Rationale For A CDO
Gathering information, extracting its value, collaborating around it, delivering information-based products and services -- that's the new value-chain of this decade.
You don't have to be a high-profile web business to fundamentally get this; witness GE's massive investment in the "industrial internet".
The closest analogy we have today is the CFO. Financial resources are important to any organization. Every part of the business uses money, but someone large-and-in-charge has to be looking out for the "big picture" view: the financial model, the balance sheet, etc.
If we substitute "information" for "money", we have roughly similar picture. Everyone gathers it. Everyone uses it. But who is looking out for the big picture? Making sure that the information assets are working as hard as possible, that value is safeguarded, that it's being used appropriately?
Information gathered by one part of the business will often be valuable to other parts of the business. The costs to acquire, store and process are already sunk; any additional value extraction is pure gravy. Maximizing the value of existing information isn't something that can be done by any traditional established function -- something new is needed.
And what if new information feeds are needed by multiple parts of the business? Who coordinates, who pays?
Maybe one part of an organization gathers sensitive information (e.g. customer details, human resources, finance, etc.) and is wise to its proper use, but what happens when that information is used by another part of the organization who might not be aware of the sensitivities? Do you share, and expose the company to risk?
In addition to thousands of laws and regulations, there's often a lack of common sense, not to mention the "creepiness" factor that often results.
Use corporate money the wrong way, and there's hell to pay. Information isn't all that different.
And then there's safeguarding the integrity of the corporate information store: yes, security -- but reasonably clean data, decent data dictionaries and manifests, and so on.
IT can help with the implementation and the methods, but there's a strategy / policy / coordination piece that is often beyond the grasp of the traditional IT function.
And I'm guessing this going to get far more important before long. And the major driver will be -- wait for it -- big data analytics.
A Real World Example
A while back, I shared on how EMC was trying to bring the power of big data analytics to multiple areas of the business using a shared platform vs. everyone do their own thing.
There was an interesting list of challenges the group was facing, and there were no easy answers.
Topping the list was "discovering and sourcing data". The company has literally thousands of data sources (and rich data sets!) -- all paid for -- but it's like a scavenger hunt. This is not a criticism; it's the inevitable result of what happens when there's no organizing function to look after things.
As I sat in the room, there were a number of people representing the finance and legal functions. While they could appreciate the business value of what was being attempted, they were rightly mindful of how easy it could be to have a really bad day as a result of all this open information sharing and mashing up data sets.
Governance is not a dirty word -- if it keeps you out of trouble.
Subtle problems were starting to crop up. Application "A" makes a semantic change in how they're gathering data -- that's their right, it's their application. But that data feed was being used by B, C, D and E.
Forget the fact that it changed -- that's to be expected -- how do you even notify the consumers of the data stream that the data now means something completely different?
Who's looking after all these producer/consumer relationships? In the traditional application world, you had a fighting chance by enforcing standards.
In the big data analytics world, that won't work -- unless you think about the problem differently.
More Sticky Problems Await
Let's forget about internally generated data for the time being, and look at outside data sources. The "ownership" and derivative rights associated with these external assets are unclear at best. Let's say you mash up a half-dozen external data feeds, and come up with something truly valuable. Are you then exposing yourself to later claims from data suppliers?
Someone has to assess and navigate the risk, as well as keep very abreast of current case law.
Or, assuming the opposite -- let's assume you distribute some sort of data feed, and some other external organization starts to use it in a way you don't approve of. What are your rights and recourses? Murky water indeed.
And that's *before* we get into privacy issues, secret letters from the NSA and all of that.
Interestingly enough, the public sector seems to be much farther along than the private sector in recognizing the value of this role, especially in larger cities.
When Will The Tipping Point Be?
I would surmise that I could create a list of a dozen or so information-centric companies, and probably find one or more individuals that roughly correspond to a "data officer" role, although they might go by another name. I've met a few people who do something similar -- but it's always a subset, and not the big picture.
We might go back in history, and ask -- what caused the old-school "accounting department" to evolve into modern finance function?
I'm no expert, but I can guess: business leaders started to take managing their financial resources very seriously for a variety of reasons: maximize value, avoid risk, and safeguard the assets.
I think we're in the early days of business leaders starting to take their information assets very seriously: maximizing value, avoiding risks and safeguarding information assets. The modern CMO is the prime example: modern marketing is becoming entirely information-driven. Familiar functions like quality, customer service, finance, supply chain and HR don't look to be far behind.
The problem -- they all need information to power their business.
Just like they need money and people :)
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