ImageIt's Time to Have the Conversation.

In a recent article, my colleague Marjie Cota wrote about the critical information that lives within a company’s data. In it she makes the case that data is not just for collecting and reporting; and if treated as a strategic asset, data can produce some game-changing business results.

The next logical question that emerges, once an enterprise starts thinking seriously about maximizing its data, is about responsibility. Who pilots the enterprise’s data strategy in order to fulfill its business objectives?

Who is Data's Boss?

Let’s consider for a moment what organizations large and small need when it comes to data:

  1. Creation of enterprise-wide data governance policy and procedures
  2. Consultation with various enterprise stakeholders to determine data needs (e.g. executive, accounting, sales, marketing, IT)
  3. Data collection
  4. Data security
  5. Data management
  6. Data flow within and across the enterprise
  7. Data analysis and modeling
  8. Data reporting and dashboarding in coordination with enterprise stakeholders

Enterprise data management is strategic in nature – and not necessarily technology driven - and the benefits it brings to the enterprise are ultimately reaped in the form of actionable business intelligence.  Strategic data management shouldn’t be just an item tacked on to an existing department or job description already overflowing with responsibilities.

Still, data experts don’t necessarily agree where responsibility for strategic data management should lie. A widely held assumption, and traditional practice, is that data lives in the IT Department – there to speak when spoken to, and to be invisible except when summoned.  However, with massive volumes of data tantalizing corporate leaders with promises of vast hidden treasures, suddenly data is being rediscovered as a major strategic player, with influence throughout the entire enterprise – much like a C-level officer.

Giving Data a Corner Office

Thomas C. Redman, in the Harvard Business Review, recently asserted, “Different kinds of assets, people, capital, technology, and data demand different kinds of management. You don't manage people assets the same way you manage capital assets. Nor should you manage data assets in the same way you manage technology assets. ” Data Blueprint’s Data Management and Data Administration academic paper makes a similar recommendation, “Management should recognize the DM is continuing to move towards a model in which it is moving away from the inclusion of low-level operations and towards more managerial functions.” 

The business response to the data management question is as varied as the businesses themselves. For some, this advocacy role comes in the form of a Chief Data Officer. For others, the CIO assumes the additional responsibilities. Still others, with a more specialized focus – and more resources - have created C-level roles such as Chief Privacy Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, and Chief Intellectual Property Officer. In fact, Data Blueprint’s research included a title survey of over 1,000 data management professionals who attended the Enterprise Data World 2009 conference. The finding: more than 300 registered job titles!

Regardless of titles, job descriptions or reporting structures, data management, and the creation of a data governance strategy, is an enterprise-wide, over-arching responsibility that resides at the executive level. It’s a strategic, organizational initiative that drips into every bucket. And with all of the attention big data is generating, it behooves companies large, medium and small, to make the most of their data.

So who’s in charge of your data?