Reflections on the 8th MIT Chief Data Officer & Info Quality Symposium

July 26, 2014 — Leave a comment

Last week I attended MIT’s annual confab on Chief Data Officers and Information Quality in Cambridge (MA). I’ve been to this event before and have watched it grow from an annual retreat on the subject of Information (and data) quality to what I now regard as a “CDO Love-fest”.

My quest in attending this year’s event was to answer this question: “What is a Chief Data Officer; Superhero, False God (of data) or Fashion Statement?”

My answer based on all that I heard and observed is quite straight-forward: It’s a Fashion Statement and here is my rationale for believing this.

A bit of background first however.

  • The Financial Services community has lead the charge in advocating and anointing Chief Data Officers to date. All of the CDO’s appointed are in reaction to Basel Committee for Banking Supervision (BCBS 239 – 2013 “Principles for effective Risk Management (data aggregation & reporting”. http://www.bis.org/publ/bcbs239.pdf ), a critical component of the new regulatory framework post the Banking Collapse of 2008. The role as defined is to coordinate Governance & Provenance activities across disparate components of the organization to ensure timely and accurate Risk data for modeling, stress testing and regulatory reporting.
  • The Government Sector has appointed the second highest number of CDO’s in response to the various Open Government Data initiatives across the world. These CDO’s are acting as coordinators and evangelists for the sharing and leverage of Government data (Federal, State & Local) with Citizens, Entrepreneurs and Industry. Their primary role is to break down internal barriers to sharing all types of Government data and to foster standardization of practices and data formats.
  • The remaining Chief Data Officers are spread across a wide-range of Industry Sectors with Technology, Advertising & Media and Science-driven (i.e. Pharma, Life Sciences, Medical Devices, etc.) being predominant. Their role is to foster broader leverage of data assets within their Organizations as well as to foster a culture of analytics and evidence-based decision making.

My Three Rationale for believing that The Chief Data Officer role is a Fashion Statement:

1.- The motivations behind appointing a Chief Data Officer in all the segments listed above (much less others) is indeed noble, but is not based on sustainability beyond accomplishing the initial (albeit Herculean) tasks assigned to the role. The notion that you can appoint a “Chief Whatever Officer” to any role within an established Organizational Hierarchy is a foolhardy one at best. Authority manifests from a top-down basis beginning with the CEO and the Board. It cascades down to areas of Functional Responsibility defined by the type of Organization and Model that it is structured around. It then further cascades down (layer by layer) to Supervisory and Front-Line Staff. To imagine that you can insert some type of a “Czar” in the middle of this hierarchy who has responsibilities in all directions, but not the Executive Authority is nonsensical at best and reflects the fact that this role was neither well thought out in advance, nor meant to be anything more than a knee-jerk response to impending regulation or long festering problems with data management.

2.- The CDO role has been positioned as  one where it has responsibility for Data Management & Data Delivery as well as Data Governance. This is a clear violation of the Prime Directive of Organizational Governance i.e. Independence (much less Transparency). You cannot Manage and Govern within the same reporting structure (per the OECD “Principles of Corporate Governance”, The Turnbull Report “Internal Control: Guidance for Directors on the Combined Code”, The BIS “Enhancing Corporate Governance in Banking Organizations” and ISACA’s “Control Objectives for Information and related Technology (COBIT)). Those who advocate for the CDO role and its ‘czar-like” structure seem to have no regard for this fact and continue doing it as part of the broader advocacy campaign for Big Data, Data Scientists, etc. where “if you say it loud enough and frequently enough then it becomes its own truth”.

3.- The Chief Data Officer role as described in the numerous publications of the day and by its advocates is centered on the notion of “all things data” in regards to remit, but for the most part remains part of the IT Organization at a subordinate level to the CIO. In spite of the CIO not having been able to solve all the challenges of data management, data delivery and data governance over the past 50+ years there is a fantastical belief that this new role will easily surmount these same challenges while operating within a lower echelon of responsibility. Really? This is truly the most farcical aspect of the “CDO Value Proposition” as it is espoused (chanted) by its “true believers”.

As I indicated earlier, my quest in attending the MIT CDOIQ Confab was to answer the burning question of “Is the Chief Data Officer a Superhero?, a False God (of data)? or a Fashion Statement?’. No one so far has shown any real superhero characteristics that I can detect (i.e. shameless self-promotion is not a superhero virtue) and nobody exhibits any God-like capabilities that I have seen so far (False or not). Given the attrition rate that seems to be rising for CDO’s I would imagine that this is another confirmation of that fact. However, I have seen “The Rise of the Chief Data Officer” as a clear Fashion Statement by many organizations who want to be perceived as “innovators in Big Data, etc.” and are using the appointment of a CDO to foster their agendas and heighten their marketing rhetoric. In the end, no matter how you might characterize the role (or alter ego) of the Chief Data Officer it is neither sustainable nor a success mechanism to solve the many challenges in Data Management, Data Delivery and Data Governance that face us. It will not lead your Organization into the “Age of Analytics” and cannot influence your Organizational Culture to become an “Evidence-based, Predictive Enterprise”. These capabilities can only come from a Structure & Strategy that is “Top-down Accountable and a Fully-aligned Organizational Culture”.

In my new thought leadership series entitled The Data Leadership Nexus (the intersection of Data, Information, Analytics, Leadership & Culture to create strategic impact, differentiation and enterprise value within every organization) I will espouse my belief that the lack of a Data Leadership Nexus represents the single biggest challenge within each Organization in realizing the benefits which have been extolled about Big Data and Advanced Analytics. It is also the linchpin for establishing “a culture of analytics” and making it pervasive across each and every enterprise.

Look for the 1st Installment in this series early in August. It is continuation to July’s “Transformational Leadership for Big Data & Analytics Success” series.

 

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