The Rise of the Chief Data Officer

Data governance looks like it might change the industry landscape just about everywhere

If you’ve ever broached the subject of 2008, you’re probably already familiar with the giant chorus of pessimism that you’re prodding. Not just about then, but about now and the future. I guess when millions of people find themselves un-or-underemployed, they have a tendency to be not so keen on the state of how things are or how they will be -- who knew?

But popular opinion has a way of being very, very wrong, and you might be surprised to know that the sky might not be falling as hard as you once thought. Because a lot has changed since 2008. Coming to the brink of total financial collapse will do that sort of thing to industry, and if you need any proof of that, just look at where the money is headed.

In 2012, the Harvard Business Review called data science the “sexiest job of the 21st century”. And while we’re still wondering if that was the most apt description possible, there’s little doubt that since the financial crisis, data -- especially in the way of risk management, transparency, and compliance -- has been at the center of a lot of people’s minds. It’s even given rise to a new type of C-level executive: the Chief Data Officer.

You see, Wall Street did take notice of something after 2008 -- that up until the recession, there was plenty of writing on the wall. There were lots of signs and symptoms that something was very wrong, but due to greed or short sightedness or whatever you want to call it, nobody bothered to look. But the data was there.

This is where the somewhat nebulous position of the Chief Data Officer comes in. If the job of the CIO is to manage the information systems that data moves through, then the job of the Chief Data Officer is to manage how that data is governed -- in this case, managing risk. And you can probably already see how that would’ve been a fairly valuable asset to have in a multi-billion dollar bank before the financial crisis...but better late than never.

So what exactly makes Chief Data Officers so different from your typical information or technology officer? Well, to put it simply, it’s a strategic position. Where a lot of people for a very long time have seen technology and data as somewhat divorced from the business end of...well, business, the Chief Data Officer crosses that line, working half on the information end and half on making that information work for business.

And it’s this -- all of this -- that plays into a much larger narrative about what’s going on everywhere. Data, and not just its collection but how it’s governed, is becoming central to how industry functions. And its captains are very quickly being turned on to this fact.

If you need proof of that, just look anywhere from the state of California to big banks like Barclays. Necessity is only, after all, the mother of invention. Or careers, in this case.

Still, I think the more interesting point is how the rise of the Chief Data Officer and his or her surrogates will affect our landscape. With data becoming such a big deal in the inevitable future, you kind of have to beg the question -- what will the world look like ten years? Maybe Wall Street will look a lot more like Silicon Valley, if not in culture, in function.

And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

As a content and events specialist at ZL, I work to bring the glamorous allure of information governance to the world. As a native Virginian and temporary Tennessean turned Californian, I’m permanently fascinated by life on the west coast. Although I miss SEC football and four distinct seasons, I’m in love with redwood forests and bubble tea on every corner.