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Chief digital officer vs. chief data officer: Who will win the day?

Will the chief digital officer outlive the chief data officer? Where should data experts draw the line in the sand on data quality? The Data Mill reports.

Two emerging titles are gaining momentum -- and contributing to IT acronym confusion. Though the roles are different, both the chief digital officer and the chief data officer are the CDOs of the executive site -- but for how long? According to Jill Dyché, vice president of best practices at SAS Institute Inc., one CDO may be poised for greater success than the other.

"With the chief digital officer, the metrics are clearer," she said. Chief digital officers push the digital envelope, especially as it relates to customer-facing initiatives. Chief data officers, on the other hand, align strategy to data," Dyché said. "[This means assembling the right people] in a data governance framework that culturally exists." Customer champion vs. traffic cop -- put that way, she's probably correct.

Longevity notwithstanding, neither title is tasked with a simple agenda. But for the digital officer, the tasks at hand are crystalized and better appreciated outside IT circles. "Nowadays, everyone can point to an example of a digital innovation: streaming movies, product recommendations on my phone, the advent of the 'smart car' and the 'smart home.' There's clarity around digital opportunities, and people are eager to collaborate on what those look like," Dyché said.

Even the mechanics of how the business will get there are clearer. "[With digital objectives] we understand that some of this has to be done in the cloud. We understand that we want to do more omnichannel outreach. So you can look at the strategy and see where digital fits," she said.

The chief data officer's work is also crucial to business success, but not as well-defined and not nearly as well understood by the business, Dyché said. Business folks want to get their hands on data, but they're also shielded from the complexity of "accessing, correcting, integrating, deploying and governing" it, she said. They consider data governance a custodial function, if they think about it all -- best taken care of by someone else.

"The value and ROI discussions for data management are just harder," Dyché said. "The phenomenon is if we hire that warm body, they'll fix all of the problems." Unless the business understands the enormity and importance of the task, however, the chief data officer runs the risk of being viewed as a very expensive janitor.

On the other hand, the chief digital officer role is viewed by some CDOs as a stepping stone to even higher ground. At the Chief Digital Officer Summit in New York City last April, David Mathison, founder of the CDO Club and summit curator, shared research documenting a trend of digital officers moving into the chief executive role. In the 2014 Chief Digital Officer Talent Map, Mathison pointed to seven digital officers who transitioned to the CEO role -- a "staggering figure, considering there are just a few hundred CDOs to date," he noted in a blog post. According to the report, more than 60% of digital officers in the advertising industry, and more than 30% of digital officers in media, "had previous experience as CEO, president, general manager or executive director."

Drawing the line on data quality

When data broker Acxiom launched its site AboutTheData.com a year ago, the company expected to run into some data quality issues. What it possibly didn't foresee were the debates those data quality issues would spark.

AboutTheData is a platform that enables consumers to see and even edit some of the data Acxiom has collected on them, gathered from public sources or things like magazine subscriptions. The data broker analyzes and sells that information for use in marketing offers and target advertisement campaigns. The site was launched in an effort to create more transparency around marketing data, as well as better accuracy of the data. One objective, according to a press release, is to give consumers a channel to the data "to better reflect their likes and dislikes, resulting in more relevant advertising." About 10% of visitors change some piece of data, while only 2% opt out completely, Jennifer Glasgow, global privacy and public policy executive at Acxiom, said at the recent MIT Chief Data Officer and Information Quality Symposium.

However, when it comes to age, the company decided the best data doesn't necessarily have to be the most accurate data. If Acxiom has a reliable date of birth and knows the consumer is 45 years old, what should the company do if a consumer comes to the site and changes his or her age to 35? "We had a spirited debate inside the company about what's the right answer to that question," Glasgow said.

Acxiom ultimately decided that was allowable. If the consumer wants to be marketed to like he or she is 35 years old, "maybe that's a better answer than knowing their actual age," Glasgow said. After all, you're only as old as you feel.

Welcome to 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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Read about how recent digital transformations threat to leave CIOs in the lurch, how the CIO role is changing and why some organizations say it comes down to the CIO vs. the CDO.

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Is the chief digital officer likely to be a temporary position or a permanent fixture?
The problem with all of the creative titles is that there is unfortunately overlap, misinterpretation, definition bleed, and too many people assigning these titles to their resume without a foundation of either consistent definition or realistic experience.

1.  Both may have different roles within the organization that allows them to stand on their own merits and contributions.  

2. A Chief Digital Officer is also becoming synonymous with the CMO, Chief Marketing Officer.  This role is associated with Web marketing, reputation, branding, and general media created for displaying the products or services of the business via the Web. This may also include social media interaction.
3. The Chief Data Officer represents a role that manages all data and information management.  This may include data and information architecture management; a driver of data and information quality; a driver of data and information governance; a driver of global privacy definition; a partner with HR and Legal in e-Discovery; a partner with applications' design regarding data flows; a partner with risk management and compliance management; a partner with Sales and Marketing or the Chief Digital Officer that collaborates with information within the organization, that is offered outside of the organization; also, a partner with the former named CIO, which should be renamed to the CTO, that manages the applications, databases and information stores; a partner with the CISO, relating to how to apply and automate privacy direction within the security systems and facility security of the organization; and finally, a partner with finance in ensuring all reporting is controlled via regulatory requirements.

As you can see, these are two very different roles.  Those who don't understand these roles, and neither broad and current experience, nor have an understanding of what these two roles offer, and how they are partners, not each other's nemesis.