Modern businesses invest a lot of money in data. If you run a business, or own a website, you’ll be familiar with the idea of buying content, or investing in resources to develop images and multimedia. Most companies also invest money in cultivating good quality data about customers, leads and suppliers.
When we begin to think of information as an asset, or an investment, we realise that there must be an owner of the data within the organisation. If the data quality is to be maintained, we need to identify who owns this data – and who should take ultimate responsibility for its upkeep.
Avoiding the Data Quality Disconnect
There are two common preconceptions about data owners.
The first is simple: data is just for ‘techies’. This is not true. But in some businesses, data is seen as a component of the information technology systems and software, and therefore a concern for the people who maintain those systems and software. Responsibility defaults to the IT department, even though the majority of people working in that department do not use the data themselves. This leads to a data quality disconnect: the people assigned ultimate responsibility for information do not have a vested interest in nurturing it.
The second misconception is this: the main beneficiaries of quality data should be tasked with tidying it up. So, some businesses place the marketing department in charge of data. And yes, marketers do use data, and benefit from it. But they cannot be ultimately responsible for its upkeep, since they may not have the necessary technical knowledge and access rights to do so. In addition, other departments use the same data, particularly where there is a drive towards a single customer view. Multiple departments using the same data leads to a situation where everyone and no one is responsible all at once.
Clearly, data upkeep falls to a third person – someone with a vested interest and the technical access required to meet the business’ data quality objectives.
Meet the Data Officer
The Chief Data Officer is the person who should be in control of information at your organisation. They are tasked with treating all information as a business asset, and ensuring that data quality, data protection and privacy are considered. While information officers are not new, data officer is a slightly different role that relates to the guarding of the ‘bare bones’ data behind important business decisions.
The Chief Data Officer role is becoming more vital as the amount of data used in business grows, and more businesses are recruiting with data quality in mind. Colin Barker writes in ZDNet that 17 per cent of organisations will hire a Chief Data Officer by the end of 2014. That is testament to the growing awareness of data as an asset, and poor data quality as a serious risk. There are other benefits to business, primarily in terms of the insight gained from good quality data and the right analytics.
The Importance of Data
The emergence of the Chief Data Officer proves that businesses are getting serious about data as an asset: something to be developed, protected, nurtured and valued. CDOs face a huge challenge: keeping our business data in great shape, and allowing all other departments – including marketing and IT – to leverage that data as they go about their daily tasks.