How the CDO Fits into Your Cloud Evolution

How the CDO Fits into Your Cloud EvolutionThroughout this series of posts, I’ve emphasized the importance of IT and overall information architecture in the journey to cloud. But as organizations become all-cloud—or more likely, a hybrid mix of cloud and on premises infrastructure—there’s another key stakeholder: the chief data officer.

CDO is a relatively new role, and it’s still being distinguished from, and learning to partner with, the CIO. One distinction: Among other things, the chief information officer always owns the infrastructure, and continues to do so as the CDO focuses on understanding the most valuable ways the business can leverage the information it possesses. So, what are the CDO’s concerns as the enterprise moves into the cloud?

Meet the CDO

CDOs emerge more often from a business background than IT, and that trend may continue, since the role demands a strong business sense for extracting value from information. That’s not to say that IT can’t step into that role. The best-known, most successful CIOs have made a career-defining specialty of really understanding their business.

Today’s IT professionals seem to understand this, and have their eyes on that evolution. At an Informatica World session last May where I discussed the role of the CDO, I asked how many people in our IT-heavy audience of about 100 people were in fact Chief Data Officers, to which only 2 hands raised. But when I turned the question around a bit and asked how many in the audience were aspiring CDOs, 75 percent of hands went up. So more of tomorrow’s strategic CDOs may in fact come from IT, but it’ll be because they’ve proven they have the business chops.

And cloud transformation is a key place where that business acumen touches infrastructure discussions.

Where the CDO meets IT and the cloud

The CDO needs to understand the architectural goals of the IT org. Not necessarily the nitty-gritty of the systems and infrastructure, but rather, two high-level issues:

  1. The desired end state toward which IT is working, and
  2. The business advantages of that architecture (including the costs of sacrificing it to short-term expediency)

So the first question a CDO asks a CIO might be, “What does your capability roadmap look like, and why?” On the flip side, the CIO’s first question should be one the CDO (hopefully) has already asked of the business: “What’s the most profitable question you’d like to answer?” Dig into it. Why can’t we answer that question already? Is the technology cost-prohibitive? Do we lack the internal talent, perhaps in terms of analysts or data scientists? Is the data that would define an answer to the question inconsistent or siloed? Quite often, an underlying system or systematic issue is at the root of problem.

From there: If it’s our mission to move to the cloud, can we do things to make headway on that data need? Can a CDO’s data roadmap and the CIO’s IT roadmap be aligned to accelerate the success of both? Understanding those two visions is really powerful, particularly because it drives IT to look for new answers, rather than setting up the same old systems, whether on premises or translated to the cloud.

Transformation looks different

The advent of the CDO is a great way to energize IT transformation—real transformation that changes whole business models rather than merely implementing this or that new system or functionality. Working with IT leaders, they can couple the business view of the most valuable data and analytics with the best technological thinking about how to actually get to those insights.

The idea of data as a business asset, much less the role of CDO, is so new that we haven’t seen a lot of these collaborations in fullest flower yet. But I’m convinced—and Informatica CIO Graeme Thompson assures me—that this is indisputably the next evolution of business and IT excellence.

Up next: That idea of not replicating your legacy headaches with new cloud technologies? It’s harder than you think — but we’ll talk it through.