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Chief data officer job description requires a proper fit

A panel of chief data officers said their jobs are demanding, even taxing at times. But they added that the rewards of the CDO position outweigh the challenges for them.

The chief data officer (CDO) job is as tough as they come. While the CDO role changes from one organization to the next, it typically involves taking responsibility for data governance, analytics initiatives and just about anything else related to the use of data. That can add up to a heavy workload, and a lot of pressure. So why would anyone take the job?

For some CDOs, part of the allure is that the duties aren't always well-defined and set in stone when they sign up. "You are creating what the role is, and there aren't a lot of opportunities in corporate America to do that," said Ursula Cottone, CDO at Cleveland-based financial services firm KeyCorp, which operates under the name KeyBank.

The CDO position may not be a good fit for everyone. For example, previous success in running analytics projects doesn't necessarily translate into competency in the role. But for those who are willing and able to take on the challenges, it can pay off.

Cottone explained during a CDO panel discussion organized by IBM and held in Boston that the two years in which she has been in her current position have been taxing. She has dealt with frequent leadership changes above her and taken on some complicated projects, including launching a BI competency center, institutionalizing a data governance policy and implementing a new data warehouse. She said she has received a lot of pushback along the way.

A rewarding position on data projects

But even with all those challenges, Cottone said the work of a CDO is rewarding, particularly when she sees business users benefiting from a new BI report or corporate executives using analytics results to make important business decisions.

The challenges faced by Eugene Kolker, CDO at Seattle Children's Hospital, are primarily related to regulations. In healthcare, strong laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), proscribe ways in which patient data can be shared and who can access it. That adds another layer of difficulty to data governance efforts and can impede analytics projects, Kolker said. At the same time, he added, many of his co-workers at the hospital have inflated expectations about what big data analytics applications can deliver, thanks to articles they've read on the subject in popular publications. Dealing with those expectations is also a big challenge for him.

But for Kolker, who has a background in bioinformatics research and data science, the ability to work on problems like high healthcare costs and unnecessary hospital readmissions is worth contending with the difficulties of his position. "This interplay between data and data science -- analytics on 'many data' bringing new value for the business -- this is extremely exciting," he said.

Diverse data needs spur teamwork push

Another common challenge faced by CDOs is the sheer number of stakeholders they're accountable to. Wes Hunt, CDO at Nationwide Insurance, said it's his job to serve anyone in the Columbus, Ohio-based company who has data needs. But as decisions become more data-driven, the number of Hunt's internal customers increases. And coordinating data processes and strategies to meet the varying needs of such a diverse enterprise is a demanding task.

Hunt said the key to serving all the different interests is to encourage collaboration. In his position, he reports to both IT and the marketing department -- and he has gotten support from both the CIO and chief marketing officer at Nationwide, which he said has helped make him more effective at getting people to pull in the same direction on data management and analytics initiatives .

"For me to be successful, that means we have to govern [data] well, encourage individuals to use it well, and help position the enterprise to rely on these insights," Hunt said, detailing a list of to-do items that might be a worthy addition to any chief data officer job description.

Ed Burns is site editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @EdBurnsTT.

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