There was a time when a CIO owned anything inside the physical fences of a company that walked, talked or looked like a computer. The CIO had management responsibility for the hardware and the software, and new innovations continued to expand the role: telecommunications, desktop machines, data storage, mobile phones that looked like shoe boxes, smaller phones, laptops, tablets, hot sites, cold sites, offsite data warehouses and then, of course, the cloud.
But somehow, CIOs have started to overlook the most important word in their title: the electronic "information" and the associated information asset management responsibilities. These business data assets were just "there," gathering digital dust due to cheap storage costs. Now, these digital assets are sources of considerable vulnerability and risk.
In addition to being appealing targets for bad actors, stored data is even easier for hostile litigators or enforcement agencies to demand for review. As investigative tools have improved, companies find it increasingly difficult to hide possible misconduct. A single email can become the smoking gun of unethical or illegal conduct against which sanctions are imposed.
But amidst these uncomfortable truths, there are two silver linings. First, those companies that are learning how to mine their data assets to discover insights that enable better corporate decisions are gaining competitive advantage. Second, some companies are discovering that their electronic data actually has economic value as an asset to be traded, whether for cash, discounts or other exchangeable property. Oddly, however, the CIO rarely owns the pursuit of these opportunities. Instead, the CIO's duties have become dominated by the responsibilities for the communications and computing infrastructure, leaving ownership of the data assets adrift. In any company, there is one essential truth: Assets without ownership will be ultimately owned by someone.
Data asset management: Who is stepping up?
Lawyers and law departments have fought to gain control of information asset management, at least for records management and the newly branded of "information governance." Largely, their goal is to accelerate the destruction of any data that could encumber defense of the company's interests. Too much data, poorly indexed data, metadata -- tens of millions of dollars have been spent by companies discovering these infirmities during legal processes.
Partnered with legal have been the efforts of chief compliance officers to gain ownership of the digital information they seek as evidence of the truth to document compliance with the requirements imposed upon the company. Those could be legal regulations but, increasingly, compliance also relates contractual requirements, notably service-level agreements.
Service-level agreements emphasize performance reporting that is steadily moving toward continual disclosure of operating data important to assuring the continued functional integrity of the related commercial relationship.
Some companies have established chief data officers and/or migrated CIO duties into a new role called CTO. This option has some merit, but leaves questions about who pursues and exploits economic opportunities represented by information asset management.
For that reason, CFOs have asserted control over this area, recognizing that their inherent responsibility to maintain and report on the financial integrity of the company depends upon the integrity of internal information and their associated control processes.
A final path forward is the creation of a chief trust officer. This position is still quite innovative and immature. In those companies pursuing this option, either alone or in combination with any of the others previously mentioned, the chief trust officer has less operational control, but greater communication duties. These duties include communications with external partners and customers to describe and assure the integrity of a company's data and data-related services.
The new rules for the CIO
Owning the digital information assets of the company may become the second most important source of revenue in any business. Ownership is no longer merely custodial. As companies improve the integrity and reliability of their data, they are discovering other market players are interested in trading cash, discounts or other compensation to gain access to, and use, a company's digital property.
Big data is not merely an internal analysis function. Instead, it is becoming big business, particularly when competitors become collaborators in aggregating data to detect new patterns, trends, opportunities and compliance outcomes. The information asset management marketplace is very real, and sophisticated transactions are moving into having the potential to benefit shareholders by altering balance sheets, increasing income and reducing expenses.
Whether or not a CIO has already been shuttered into a virtual corner shaped by the infrastructure duties, the key rule for a CIO is to gain ownership of the income opportunities created by digital assets. In each transaction opportunity, someone has to lead the coordination of legal, compliance, technology, security, finance and trust. That job is different than any of the other singular reformations other companies have been trying. It is the new opportunity for a CIO to own the true potential of digital assets as a source of new wealth in a company.
More from Jeffrey Ritter about information asset management:
Big data regulation: Monitor information systems to create new business wealth
The business case for information governance investment