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CIOs and the chief data officer: Who's the pioneer and who's the settler?

SearchCIO's Nicole Laskowski was at the MIT Chief Data Officer Information Quality Symposium last week. Here's what she picked up for The Data Mill.

Are chief information officers on their way to becoming chief infrastructure officers? Micheline Casey, chief data officer of the Federal Reserve Board, thinks so.

Nicole LaskowskiNicole Laskowski

She was one of the presenters at the seventh annual MIT Chief Data Officer Information Quality Symposium (CDOIQ), held recently in Cambridge, Mass.

"[CIOs] have enormous portfolios to manage -- everything from data centers, cloud, desktop support, mobile; but the reality is that the business is trying to deal with being part of an integrated information economy," Casey said. "For organizations trying to be more competitive … folks can't wait for IT to keep up anymore."

Really? Then who will take care of the "information," you ask? Enter the chief data officer (CDO), a position poised to home in on innovation territory as well, by the way. Casey's case in point? Not long ago, the CIO of a large healthcare organization insisted to her that he didn't need a chief data officer because he was the chief of data. Overseeing data through four mergers, the advent of the Health Information Technology Act and an industry shift to outcome-based care was IT's job, thank you very much -- and always had been. This year, the guy is looking for a CDO. "Finally, an awareness after more than a decade of struggling with all of their data … that they as an organization have to change!" she said.

The light bulb hasn't gone on for everyone. Based on data Casey presented, only 30% of organizations have a CDO, and most of those currently report to the CIO. Moreover, these jobs seem freighted with ambiguity, never a good thing for C-level positions. What exactly are the rules and responsibilities of a CDO? "That's still up in the air," Casey said.

One audience member made a cryptic statement about the history of the CIO role, admonishing us to remember that the pioneers got the arrows and the settlers got the land. But it wasn't clear if he meant the CIO or the CDO will prevail.

Data's got some brand new moves

Here's another lesson for CIOs from the Fed CDO, this one with a nifty visual aid. Transactional data tends to be organized in columns and/or rows and then, more than likely, siloed by lines of business. But rigid warehousing and storage structures do not reflect how companies use or should use or want to use that data, instructed Casey.

"Data in the organization needs to be extremely fluid because you live in an ecosystem," she said. She shared a slide that illustrated her point. Data doesn't just move horizontally and/or vertically like Tetriminos. (Yes, Tetris pieces have a name.) It crisscrosses the organization and looks a little like this visualization of Boston's bike-share program.

"It's a new world order," she said.

BI, meet cloud

Speaking of new world orders, none other than Howard Dresner, the father of BI turned researcher and consultant, has come out with a new prediction on where the field is headed. He recently published survey data on cloud business intelligence (BI).

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Based on the 1,182 surveys collected, 35% of respondents reported cloud BI as either "critical" or "very important." That's up from 31% in 2012. Not bowled over by those figures? You should be, because BI -- and analytics -- are notoriously hard sells for the cloud.

That doesn't mean on-premises infrastructure is going away anytime soon, Dresner said, but neither is cloud delivery. "The train has left the station. It may be going slowly, and it may have to go over a mountain pass or two, but it's left the station," he said.

Of course, someone -- the CIO or his pal, the CDO? -- will have to ensure that these paid services are doing what they're supposed to be doing and are integrated and audited when necessary. But it's just more evidence that IT operations are moving on. "We're no longer managing all of these things on site. We're just managing the people who are managing it now," Dresner said.

Talking dirty (data) at CDOIQ

"Data and metadata are like fish; if you leave them alone for a while, they start smelling." -- Derek Strauss, chief data officer, TD Ameritrade

"Metadata has never been so popular, thanks to Snowden and the NSA." -- Micheline Casey, chief data officer, Federal Reserve Board

"The data just wasn't valuable enough." -- Richard Soley, chairman and CEO, Object Management Group, in response to why data has never been included as an asset on the balance sheet

"A solution to 'dirty data' is more dirty data. Seriously. You get more data in, and then you help that data provide you with the context." -- Farzad Mostashari, chief of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, United States Federal Government

This is The Data Mill, a weekly column devoted to all things data. Heard something newsy (or gossipy)? Email me or find me on Twitter at @TT_Nicole.

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