Do You Have What it Takes to be a Chief Data Officer in Government?

By Chuck Brooks, Vice President and Client Executive, Department of Homeland Security

We are in the information age and data is the currency of every industry, business and government agency. Digital technologies are connected to intelligent systems and producing an abundance of information that is waiting to be consumed and leveraged. Data provides organizations with useful insights into constituents, customers and business processes that help decision makers formulate intelligent, strategic business decisions. The availability of information is great, but how are agencies and companies going to manage it?

Enter the Chief Data Office (CDO), a new player in the C-suite. Recently, we discussed the growth and role of CDOs in government, highlighting some of the newest CDOs in government including Colorado, New York City, the Department of Transportation, the FCC  and the nations’ first ever U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

In the public sector, it is the CDO’s responsibility to make sure the agency has a useful, enterprise-wide data inventory, and emphasize sharing data across the often siloed bureaus and offices to solve problems for federal employees and the American people. According to a recent survey conducted by Information Management, nearly half of CIOs say their biggest barrier to success is the sheer volume of data.

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But in order to accomplish that, what qualities should these executives have to be successful in this newly defined role? Below are a few key attributes I believe are important to the CDO role, especially in the public sector:

  1. Data Lover – A CDO must be a data person. You want your CDO to be passionate and get excited about analyzing data and finding insightful patterns. They should strongly believe in the value of data and use that enthusiasm to drive an agency-wide cultural change to ensure everyone sees the importance of data when it comes to business decisions and strategies.
  2. Agility – Managing digital information is important, but the key to gaining successful insights from this information is trial and error. A CDO should be able to adapt and change as processes unfold. If a procedure isn’t working they should be able to analyze it and think outside the box to develop a new system. It is up to them to lead knowledge workers and need to seamlessly adapt and change as agency goals and processes evolve.
  3. Technology Savvy – In order to harness and manage data, there needs to be a strong technological solution in place. The CDO needs to proactively learn more about new technologies by attending conferences, events, and hackathons to determine the best solution for their environment. It is imperative that they have an understanding of industry technology trends so they are researching and implementing new solutions, rather than falling behind and becoming irrelevant.
  4. Risk Taker – Capturing and using data is uncharted territory. Agencies and organizations understand how data can be used, but are failing when it comes to developing the right processes to garner useful insight. The CDO will make people uncomfortable and push them out of their comfort zone, therefore it is important to have a CDO that will lead boldly and continue to advocate for change even if people are wary and their ideas are unpopular.
  5. Patience – As Benjamin Franklin said, “He that can have patience can have what he will.” Since this is a new role and an unexplored area of business, CDOs must be very patient and educate the C-suite and knowledge works along the way to ensure that everyone is comfortable and on the same page.. Being patient will help the CDO develop a foundation and support system full of data advocates for future success.

Data has the power to transform our daily lives, and keeping it sheltered and inaccessible takes away from its true value. CDOs are the key to unlocking this data and revolutionizing the workplace, constituent interactions and business critical decisions. Now we just need to find those data lovers that are right for the job.

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