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I’m looking for your insights and wisdom.  The article below comes from a recent Harvard Business Review daily briefing.  The authors advocate the creation of a new senior position in organizations – chief data officer.


I’ve spent several months wrestling with a number of the issues named in the article, plus an even more fundamental question specific to my University – identifying where the heck all the information resides!  That in itself is a challenge in an environment whose culture embraces distributed functions and generally resists central coordination and control.


Are any of you affiliated with universities or colleges where a similar position is already in place?  Are you seeing any trends or best practices in this area as you scan the national and international picture?  What are the qualifications for a CDO?  Thoughts, observations, advice from anyone would be welcome.


With regards – Bill


William F. Hogue

Vice President for Information Technology and CIO

University of South Carolina

Your C-Suite Needs a Chief Data Officer

In the closing decade of the twentieth century, Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. showed the world that elephants can dance by turning around IBM, a mammoth if ever there was one. Part of his winning formula was in functional centralization, appointing the company's first Chief Marketing Officer — in function if not in name. Two decades later, it's time for corporations to embrace a new functional member of the C-suite: the Chief Data Officer (CDO).

Big data is enjoying unprecedented attention, with more than $1 billion invested in it in the last year alone. Big names like Ford and Sears are setting up data labs in the Bay Area and we have just witnessed the launch of Data Collective, a data-only venture fund set up by some of Silicon Valley's leading lights. However, most enterprises grew up in an era before the importance of data was recognized, such that the part of a company responsible for collecting, storing, and extracting data is often separate from the part responsible for using the data. This structural separation makes it difficult to implement data solutions across an organization.

Enter the Chief Data Officer. Making the most of a company's data requires oversight and evangelism at the highest levels of management. The CDO would be responsible for:

Identifying how data can be used to support the company's most important priorities. Some data use cases are obvious. Others are less so. Companies don't necessarily realize, for example, that they can use cross-selling algorithms to increase customer depth, or lead-prioritization algorithms to increase sales conversion rates. When meeting companies for the first time, we've learned not to ask, "Which problems can we help you with?" but rather, "What are your most pressing business problems?" Nine times out of 10, data has something to say about those problems — it's just that the company doesn't realize it.

In fact, data can assist most business decision-making — from the tactical (Which items should I bundle?) to the strategic (Should I open a new store in this location?). In all likelihood, data can be used to enhance the functions most essential to a business, but it takes someone who understands both the power of data and the priorities of a business to figure out how.

The CDO's most important role would be to understand when business units should be looking for answers in the company's data. Then the process of extracting those answers begins.

Making sure the company is collecting the right data. A critical prerequisite to making data-driven decisions is collecting the right data. For the CDO, this would mean ensuring that processes are being instrumented and that all necessary data is being captured and stored.

This, however, is only the first step. In some cases, necessary data must be found through experimentation. A/B testing is very much part of the culture of Silicon Valley web start-ups, but hasn't yet made its way to corporate America. If you want to know how sales decrease as prices rise, there's no better way than trialing different prices. These experiments can yield a wealth of data which can then be used profitably in the business. It would be up to the CDO to engender this culture of experimentation.

Ensuring the company is wired to make data-driven decisions.
Data-driven decision-making requires a series of steps best referred to as the "data production line." Data must be collected, stored, cleaned, analyzed and in some cases, visualized. In many cases, this process will result in an algorithm which must be embedded in business processes. It would be the CDO's responsibility to create the data production line, allowing the company to move seamlessly from collection to insight.

This is easier said than done. It's rare to find a company using complementary technology across the entire data value chain. Moreover, data is often stored in different silos, making it difficult to exploit. Imagine you're a bank approached for a loan by an employee of AIG. It's likely that your corporate lending department has spent a great deal of time analyzing AIG, such analysis having bearing on the customer's prospects of getting a bonus, being promoted, or being terminated. It's also likely that such information is hidden from the retail lending division tasked with rating the customer. Too often, mismatched technologies force algorithms to fly half blind.

The age of big data is upon us, but realizing its potential will require input from both the innovators in Silicon Valley building data solutions and the enterprises standing to benefit from them. The most valuable thing enterprises can do now to realize the promise of big data is to appoint a CDO. With facts replacing hunches in more and more areas of business, data is the elephant that should be in the room.

********** Participation and subscription information for this EDUCAUSE Constituent Group discussion list can be found at


Oh geez. Where could one start in dissecting this mess?


Vince Kellen, Ph.D.

Senior Vice Provost

Academic Planning, Analytics and Technologies

University of Kentucky

301 Rose Street

Lexington, KY 40506

+1 (859) 257-3609





I suspect we can all empathize. I certainly can. 

I believe that some of these challenges have little to do with "Big Data".  Every organization, of every size, can benefit from collecting the right data, making it usefully available for decision support, and developing a culture that can skillfully use evidence to inform decisions.  I'm at a small school; we don't have "Big Data" but we still have all of those challenges.  I don't mind using the term, but I can see how our colleagues at small schools might feel that this conversation is irrelevant to them—when in fact the underlying challenges are identical. 

To answer your question: yes, here at Marylhurst we are actively working on this. The phrases I use to educate people are things like "changing the relationship of the institution with its information" and "moving from a transactional to a strategic view of information". 

One thing I am trying to do is to create a few meaningful stories about how we can improve life for our students by being more strategic about information. Because we serve mostly working adults, we have many part-time students and a lot of "stopping out" (taking a term off); it's really hard to know if our students are on track.  I'm working on a visual representation of a degree-planning and retention-management toolset that will serve both students (clear path to degree, increased engagement, better financial and time planning) and Marylhurst (better ability to intervene when someone is off track, better modeling of enrollment and demand for classes). By focusing the conversation on these deliverables, I'm trying to build different thinking about data from top to bottom of the organization.

Should we have a CDO? Probably not; I think it's my job, as CIO, to provide the executive-level connection here. Maybe in a very large organization you'd need both. If I could add one more staff person to help it would be a business analyst/programmer. But that's just the scale I'm at.

Copying the SMALLCOL group since I'd love to hear their take on this interesting question! Thanks as always for your provocative questions.


Ethan Benatan, Ph.D.
Vice President for IT & 
Chief Information Officer

You. Unlimited.



I have observed the need for centralized data management at a number of institutions. Centralization allows for consistent data definition, a single source (or at least a single point where data can be requested), consistent approach to data security, and many other benefits. This role was assigned to the head or a lead individual in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness (or Institutional Research) at some institutions I am familiar with. There is a strong connection to IT but the issues are much broader. Regardless of where the position or duties are placed, the key is an effective data governance group, not the CDO per se. The CDO or anyone on this group ought to be astute enough to recognize data issues from a broad perspective. For example, “Oh, you are scanning these documents into files on your file share. Have you considered our central document imaging system so student data is in one place?”.


Ilya Yakovlev

Chief Information Officer

University of Wisconsin-Parkside


A few stray thoughts to add to the mix.

First, a useful distinction might be made between a specialization in business intelligence (big data) and information management.  Is it possible to have one person do both?  I don't think so, but I know that some institutions either unintentionally confuse the two or purposefully combine the roles for financial reasons.  Note below a question regarding the intersection of these roles and that of the CIO ...

Second, per the second area, information management, there is a certification offered by the IAPP.  Also, this site is hardly definitive, but a beginning resource of interest at Cornell.  Have at it:

Third, again in terms of information management, it might be helpful to note that for-profit corporations have tackled this area long ago and have instantiated "privacy officers" as the complement to "[technical] security officers" as the go-to people who advise those who have executive responsibility for information management.  For reasons I do not entirely understand, higher education has been very slow to adopt this perspective.  Do you know why?

At Cornell, we identify those roles as "data" or soon to be renamed, "information" stewards.  Name is not important, but the role is.  And the whole -- an inventory of institution information and designated officers responsible for it -- is greater than the sum of individual parts when it comes to compliance, risk management and reputation.  Data breach notification, in legal parlance a "privacy law," has together with FERPA, HIPAA and GLBA made the significance of these roles rise in importance in the last decade, and one could safely predict that "international" institutions will have to be even more serious about information management given the comprehensive privacy laws on personal information in most developed countries except for the United States.  (Canada is a hybrid.)

Finally, I would appreciate hearing from CIO experiences: is your name accurate?  Are you really the chief information officer or would CT (technology)O be the more appropriate title that comports with your functional roles and responsibilities?  If the former, how do you manage the "information" part of technology?  If the latter, how to get out of the conundrum of having all the responsibility for institutional information but not the authority?

Thanks, Tracy