Do Data Pros Belong in the IT Department or Somewhere Else?

There’s no arguing it, big data is here to stay. It’s a long-standing management tidbit that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Today’s systems have made measuring and analyzing many different types of data easier than ever, resulting in more data points being tracked. Often the hope is that some trend or pattern will emerge, allowing just a touch more efficiency and subsequent profitability.

This increase in tracked data points has led to new positions being opened in companies. First came the analysts, trying to make sense of the new influx of data, then came data scientists, specially trained to work with massive amounts of data, finding correlations and inferring causation where most see only chaos. As the teams have grown and become more important in organizations some companies have added a top layer to these teams, a Chief Data Officer.

The only remaining questions are: Where does this CDO reside in the organizational structure? Should they be part of the IT team? Should they report to the CIO? COO? Someone else? Directly to the CEO? The trend is for them to stop reporting to the CIO and start reporting to the CEO directly.

Big data

We All Use Data

The biggest argument for this trend is easy to see. From the marketing department to the manufacturing line, big data can help everybody in the organization. While IT may be where a lot of big data projects started other departments have long used data analysis to their advantage.

Accounting departments have long been known to take a company’s numbers and crunch through them for weeks on end, trying to identify what change caused an increase in revenue and what change slowed down growth. Similarly, marketing tries hard to ascertain which marketing campaigns result in engagement and which result in fewer results than the resources put into them. The advent of big data, with more tracking and easier analysis than ever has changed these professions just as much as it’s changed IT.

Customer Driven And Strategy Focused

Someone in a CDO position is more likely to focus on the customer than the internal organization. Their decisions are more likely to be strategic than tactical. At the same time, a CIO is usually more focused on internal infrastructure and vendor management. This focus generally points the CIO to a more tactical approach, with strategic leanings.

This focus on the customer and larger corporate strategy means the CDO and the greater data organization will interface with marketing and accounting just as much as they will with IT and IS. The need to keep a bigger view of the organization in sight naturally pulls the CDO out from under the CIO and puts them on the same level.

Big Picture, Big Responsibilities

The trend to move data from being storage to being an asset has increased the responsibility of the data gatekeepers. In response, data teams within whatever department, usually IT, have grown in size and importance over the last few years. These teams now need to properly manage all of a company’s data and deliver it in useful forms to the rest of the organization. This is beyond the scope of what most IT teams are formed to do.

The new responsibilities lend themselves to reporting directly to the CEO much as a COO would. Just as the COO works to guide the strategic operations of the company the CDO must work to guide the strategic decisions of the company.

In many large organizations, the data team should be its own entity just as the accounting team is. Just as the CFO guides the corporate finances the CDO should guide the corporate data policies and use. While in some cases the CIO may have a more strategic role allowing the CDO to comfortably sit underneath, often it makes more sense for the CDO to sit next to the CIO.

Whether you are a CDO, CIO, or trying to decide what position might be best for you, check out our customer stories and see how we can help you navigate the new world of big data.

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