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The rise of the chief data officer

Whether you do the job yourself or work alongside the person who does it, the one executive role CIOs must be aware of in 2013 is chief data officer.

The prediction season is upon us. IT budget projections, top 10 technologies, the disruptiveness of digital disruption, Electoral College odds. Here's one hunch I'd put money on.

"We believe that the chief data officer -- separate from the chief information officer -- will be one of the top critical hires in 2013," Shawn Banerji said. "By 2015, coming up to 50% of the Fortune 100 will have a chief data officer. That's up from 5% today."

Banerji is managing director at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. He's recruited CIOs for 14 years -- that is, well before the CIO role was even a job at many companies. His firm is involved in as many as 100 CIO searches a year and upwards of 200 searches for senior IT executives. Companies bend his ear every day on the technology expert they need right now and pick his brains on the one they should have next. They want to know whom they need to hire to take care of the one asset -- aside from money -- that companies value most today: data. "Empirical data has never been more relied upon," Banerji said.

Based in New York, the financial capital of the country if not the world, Banerji has seen the hegemony of data at the expense of the gut -- up close and personal. The moxie of the trader who wheeled and dealed on instinct that was once so valued? "That's all changing, as financial trading is run on complex algorithms. You see it in health care, where the focus is on a single view of the patient and outcomes based on all facets of a patient's life. That's data," he said. In other industries, in manufacturing, the ascendancy of data might not be so apparent, but of course that's changing too, as products, sensorized and tracked, become imbued with a virtual life.

We believe that the chief data officer -- separate from the chief information officer -- will be one of the top critical hires in 2013.
Shawn Banerjimanaging director, Russell Reynolds Associates

Who is out there who can take the data companies have been collecting all this time -- plus all the data now pouring in -- and make it meaningful and actionable? As important as having the technical and analytical skills for the job -- and they're considerable, Banerji said -- "it's equally important these people possess the communication and relationships skills to partner with business people and deliver something of value, as opposed to a hodgepodge of facts," he said. That's what companies are asking Banerji's firm to find for them.

The implications for CIOs are huge, whether you happen to be a CIO who decides to own that chief data officer role, or whether you will find yourself working alongside a new chief data officer. As most CIOs know, the talent out there to spin big data into gold is scarce. And, according to the latest dispatch from Gartner Inc. on the topic of big data, that scarcity is poised to become a worldwide famine. In two years' time, Gartner calculates, 4.4 million IT jobs globally will be created to support big data, generating 1.9 million IT jobs in the United States. On top of that, every big-data-related role in the U.S. will create employment for three people outside of IT, for a total of 6 million IT-related jobs. Measured by the current talent shortage, however, only a third of those IT jobs will be filled.

"IT leaders will need immediate focus on how their organization develops and attracts the skills required. These jobs will be needed to grow your business. These jobs are the future of the new information economy," Peter Sondergaard, Gartner's global head of research warned this week at Symposium/ITexpo, the firm's annual gathering of thousands of IT professionals.

The call to arms for CIOs is just the latest evolution of a job that continues to mutate at mind-boggling rates, as my friend Banerji reminded me. "In the 14 years I've been recruiting in the field, the change I've seen in the expectations of the CIO role, both strategically and on the operating level, is incredible," he said. Why, just a decade ago, he reminisced, the best-in-class CIO was someone who could successfully implement a big enterprise software application -- and then, the mandate was often for a person with a particular skill in a particular product -- Oracle or PeopleSoft or SAP. The marksman CIO was quickly replaced by the "operational CIO," the enterprise engineer who could build a functional utility, a crackerjack IT infrastructure that made the business run on time: Networks stayed up, email worked, financial reports did not run afoul of regulations such as SOX. Operational CIOs broadened their reach into shared services, rationalizing, automating and centralizing administrative functions across the enterprise to free up their executive peers in finance, HR and legal to focus on the big stuff.

"In the new paradigm, the CIO is very much expected to do all the things I just mentioned exceedingly well, but also be accountable for driving innovation -- and in many cases interacting directly with customers in the market. That is a very different profile than three years ago, let alone seven or 10 years ago," Banerji said.

It is likely that in many enterprises, as Banerji predicts, the burden of the CIO will be lifted by splitting the job into two: CIO and chief data officer. But as these changes are put into the works, CIOs will want to be among those deciding whether the CIO takes on subordinates to fulfill this data management need, or whether an equal-level colleague is put in place to handle these data decisions. Of course, in the information age, there is always a "next big thing," and another CDO -- the chief digital officer -- is waiting in the wings. More on that in a later post.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, News Director.

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