Whose job is it to drive Big Data projects and demonstrate value to an organization? This was among the questions put to a panel of c-level executives during a debate at Big Data LDN today.
Naturally, there was a divide in opinion on the panel as the CDO for the Bank of Ireland, Barry Green, talked up the chief data officer as the business-facing exec in this debate, while CIO for London Borough of Camden Omid Shiraji quick to disagree.
CDO versus CIO
“l think the CDO is a business role not a technology role,” Green said, adding that the role is much more strategic and collaborative than the CIO, and is therefore increasingly important.
For Shiraji, “the CIO role isn’t a technology role, that’s part of the problem. People in my kind of position act like technologists rather than as part of the organization itself.” Shiraji feels CIOs must be the ones “evangelizing”, explaining and illustrating the value of data in organizations.
While the two may not reconcile on the nature of their roles, what the panellists did agree on was the strategic important of data and therefore the need for someone to act as the steward of data, no matter what the size of the organization.
Role of the Big Data steward
Jason Foster, CEO of Cynozure and former consultant at Marks and Spencer told the audience that “Ten years ago the conversation was convincing organizations of [the value] of data. These days’ people just know data is important.” He explained that many organizations might now be playing catch up, but start-ups are founding their business on data and expanding from there.
It’s this strategic importance of data and its potential value that makes the debate around the CIO vs CDO interesting. What was apparent during this debate, however, was that regardless of who owns it, data needs a steward or a champion.
Shiraji explained this well, saying “if you treat data like money, you do need a steward at the c-level to own that.” At the London Borough of Camden, elected officials have an influence around the Council’s data policy, so Shiraji claims that both these officials and the CEO act as stewards alongside him.
That’s not necessarily true across all boards, though. As Green noted during the debate, “data can become very sexy for a limited period of time,” so keeping the board interested is a challenge.
‘Without data you’re just another person with an opinion’
Omi Shiraji has found one solution to this. He argues that once one board member uses very exact data to make a strong claim for a larger budget, or to refute another board member’s point, suddenly the rest of the board will be interested in how they got that data and how they can follow suit.
This is an issue of culture, but Shiraji believes that once one person champions data it builds “positive momentum around the use of data at the boardroom level, so you can use it as a tool to make sure data gets on the agenda in the boardroom.”
Debate chair, freelance technology journalist Jessica Twentyman drove this point home citing W. Edwards Deming’s timeless phrase “without data you’re just another person with an opinion.”