The Job of Data: The Chiefs in Charge of Data

This is an except from the article, The Job of Data: The Chiefs in Charge of Data in the C Suite, from by Theo Douglas in March 2017:

The full article is available here to read

Here’s a look at all the ambassadors for the new culture of evidence-based decision-making.

Monitoring snowplows in real time to keep residents moving, streamlining park maintenance and working to improve highway safety are all ways state and local agencies leverage data to generate results for taxpayers.

But each agency has a slightly different approach to data, based on its organization and where it is on the journey from warehousing, an early collection step, to visualization and analysis.

Similarly, officials at different agencies who interact with data may hold the same title but have varying responsibilities; and as agencies’ data operations mature from collecting to analyzing, those same officials may see their positions and duties evolve to meet new demands.

Three positions in government tend to work most closely with data.

The chief data officer (CDO) is the gatekeeper for big data — managing it, keeping it secure, assessing it for privacy risks, but also overseeing raw data creation, collection and analysis.


Gartner predicted in January 2014 that by 2015, 25 percent of large global organizations would appoint CDOs. In that time period, nearly a half-dozen federal agencies did so. The upward trajectory was noted by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, which proclaimed 2015 the Year of the CDO.

The chief performance officer (CPO) focuses less on data for data’s sake. The CPO is charged with analyzing business practices to determine how an organization is performing, and data is increasingly the shiniest tool to use.

CPOs, like some CDOs, may not be completely hands-on. They may take something of a consultant or advisory role, letting agency departments actually crunch the numbers and create the data streams, then stepping in to help them understand what the results mean. But don’t let that fool you.

Since the CPO role began to be distinguished from that of a CFO more than 15 years ago and the fed minted its first CPO in 2009 in the Office of Management and Budget, the position has become increasingly high profile.

In Vermont, Susan Zeller is the state’s first CPO, a position she’s held for three years.

She reports to the secretary of administration, whom she described as the governor’s right hand. Zeller trains employees on producing data to inform the budgeting process, as well as the annual report, but her primary responsibility is performance-based budgeting.

“You can’t improve what you can’t measure, and you can’t measure if you don’t have any data,” Zeller said.

Zeller and Casey Cleary, a state enterprise architect in its Chief Technology Office, said the state is somewhat hamstrung by its size — a population comparable to the city of Boston — and has a long way to go to be considered a complete data user or pioneer.

Vermont has a strategic plan that will likely be redone by the new administration, and is working on a statewide data governance program. It has also rolled out two data governance programs.

But a statewide data portal remains in the testing phase, and Zeller said she and Cleary still find resistance to releasing data from state departments unconvinced of its value and worried about a breach.

“I’m so tired of asking for data and getting a PDF that I can’t do anything with. We’re so afraid that we’ll let something out that shouldn’t get out that we let nothing out,” Zeller said. “It’s not bleeding edge, it’s not even leading edge. We’re behind the leading edge; we’re in the middle of the pack. If we’re going to stay in the pack, we need to keep moving forward.”

“It’s a struggle, to say the least,” said Cleary, who described much of his work as marketing, education and outreach, informing state staffers of the value of information management.

“It’s starting to form. We’re getting there. Now it’s the molding and the governance. How does information get uploaded, what format should it be in, how can it get shared?” he added. “Right now, we’re ironing out those details from a statewide strategic level to say, ‘This is how Vermont as a state handles its data.’”


The full article is available here to read

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