Make Room in The C-Suite: Rise of the Chief Data Officer

Business intelligence and data analysis are touted as waves of the future and are sparking the emergence of the executive-level data officer.

Big data is getting a lot of hype these days.

We need to dig deeper into the data mine to get real insight into the what and why questions beneath the surface of year-end reports.

It’s estimated that this trend of gathering and analyzing data to make better business decisions will be responsible for $28 billion in IT spending this year alone, and by 2015, big data is estimated to generate 1.9 million IT jobs in the United States and 4.4 million globally, according to Peter Sondegaard, senior vice president of Gartner, Inc., an information technology research and advisory company.

So it’s no surprise that the new title — Chief Data Officer — has been floating around lately.

The city of Philadelphia just hired one. Mark Headd, former technology advisor to Delaware Governor Thomas Carper, was hired by the city to create greater transparency and public access to city information. The city of San Francisco is also planning to hire a CDO who will be tasked with, among other things, analyzing data sets to better improve the city’s decision making.

But as popular as big data is becoming in governmental agencies and for-profit companies, it is not as widespread in the association world.

Rick Johnston noted this in an Acronym blog post late this summer. He acknowledged that associations are collecting data on membership, revenue, subscriptions, meeting attendance, and more, but few are using that data to influence their strategy or operational plans.

“We need to dig deeper into the data mine to get real insight into the what and why questions beneath the surface of year-end reports,” Johnston wrote. “To think more like a business and closely analyze their operations and reap the intelligence that will help them measure real results and make quick decisions that will have a positive impact.”

As the technology behind business intelligence becomes more accessible, though, there is an opportunity for more associations to get in on the data hype, Debbie King, CEO of DSK Solutions, said in a recent ASAE TechnoScope article.

“With the advent of big data and the pace of change, we need to able to quickly understand and interpret data so that we can take action and change our future for the better,” King added.

A word of warning, though: Data gives you the impetus to change direction or take action, but it still takes someone to steer the ship.

Numbers and data do not replace the need for strategy. It often takes someone who is immersed in an organization’s strategic plan to be able to interpret and make the best use of those numbers or to determine what data to collect in the first place—hence the rise of the CDO.

Most associations, especially those of the small to mid-size varieties, might not need such a high-level data officer, but is there room for a director or manager of data information? How can associations better incorporate data analysis into their strategic missions?

(TMG archive photo)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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