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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Follow the Yellow (Data) Brick Road, my pretty....

Chief Data Officers need to stay on the data path - even if we don't really know where it leads yet.

Just as in the "Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy dropped a house on the Wicked Witch of the East, the emerging role of the "Chief Data Officer" (CDO) has come in from nowhere and is suddenly being lauded as the solution to all our data problems. Plenty of Munchkins are looking to this new position to be a key mover and shaker in making a better data world - even if we're nowhere near settled in terms of what it's actually there to do, or how it's going to do it. 

Yet already, the flying monkeys are circling, with speculation that the CDO role isn't going to be wearing the ruby slippers for long. For example, as this ComputerWorld article explores.

This quote by Peter Aiken particularly got my attention: 

"Once that job is finished, and data management is ingrained in the organization, the need for a specific chief data officer may disappear."

Really? We haven't even started seeing whether this role is actually able to contribute, yet we're already writing it off? 

Now, I accept that it may have been taken out of context, so apologies to Peter if ComputerWorld has taken his comment in a direction that he didn't intent. But taken at face value, I think that's not just a polemic statement - I'd go so far as suggest that it's actually almost meaningless. 

From my perspective, there is no business that I've ever come across has reached a level of maturity such that information is ingrained as part of its behavioural DNA. It's a constant process of renewal, innovation and evolutionary change. Based on the fact that people are involved, it couldn't really be otherwise! 

If nothing else, Business Entropy comes in to play to ensure that there's never going to be an ordered state. Where data is concerned, it's the CDO's role to be accountable for facilitating information-enabled thinking and injecting energy into the whole ecosystem.

I challenge anyone to come up with one concrete example of a truly information-enabled organisation that doesn't need some form of catalytic input.

And while I'm at it, I might as well also take issue with David Mathison's contention as also quoted in the article, that there are three "CxO" roles in play (Data, Digital and Analytics). 

Lions and tigers and bears? (Oh, my!)

For me, part of the problem is that these things end up getting thought about separately, rather than being complementary facets of the same business problem - that of achieving evidence-based decision-making. (As I already made a case for when I published the example Data Governance Charter.) It doesn't really help to separate them out in this way, because sure as dammit, companies will actually try to hire three different people and chaos will ensue, rather than looking at implementing a unified vision. 

The ruby slippers need to be used in tandem with the witch's broom and the magic spyglass.

OK, so we're still working out exactly where this particular Yellow Brick Road leads (to the Emerald City, hopefully. Or at least an opal mine...). But one thing's for sure, I'd rather stay on the path than wander off into the haunted woods of data chaos, or fall asleep in the poppy fields of information apathy....

Keep to the path, and we might even make it back over the rainbow...

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