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The Chief Data Officer is critical in driving business value from company information

The Chief Data Officer is critical in driving business value from company information

As data volumes continue to grow at an exponential rate, the management of data has become increasingly critical to business. Understanding what data is being stored, why it is being retained, what risk this data may pose and how to unlock its value are just a few of the factors organisations need to address.

Historically, however, there has always been a ‘disconnect’ between the IT department and the business, who are the owners of the data. This has tended to complicate an organisation’s initiatives to derive value from data, as there is no synergy between what the business owners require and the technology solutions implemented to drive this. As a result, a new job title has emerged among top-level executives – the Chief Data Officer (CDO). The CDO is tasked with bridging the gap between business and IT to define and enforce data policies and ensure data assets are managed optimally to provide maximum benefit.

The sheer volume of data that organisations are generating and storing on a daily basis has a number of implications to business. Without adequate data policies, indiscriminate data storage leads to a sprawling mess that has financial implications and can impact the performance of IT systems.

Furthermore, without adequate data management in place, organisations’ remain unable to leverage any value from their information. In addition, as South Africa becomes increasingly structured and regulated, external pressures are forcing organisations to reconsider their data policies in order to ensure compliance to a variety of legislation. The task of managing data, traditionally the realm of the Chief Information Officer (CIO), has now become so essential that it requires greater levels of responsibility and accountability, and as such, the CDO has emerged.

The role of the CDO

The CDO is responsible for all of the processes and policies relating to what needs to be done with data, including its classification and the definition of rules and policies for information lifecycle management.  Data is a business asset, but without the bridging role of the CDO, it is typically impossible to leverage as such. To the IT department, data is simply a storage issue, however, for the business, it is the content that is important. Ultimately the CDO’s main objective is to control data sprawl, ensure governance and derive business value from company information to improve overall insight and competitiveness.

Controlling growth

When data is located in multiple siloes and stored indiscriminately, the end result is that organisations struggle to find the right information when they need it. Organisations often have little to no insight into what data is being created, as well as limited control over the storage of and access to this data.

As a result there is also practically zero understanding of its value to a business. Data becomes an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ – there is a veritable treasure chest of information but no way of actually leveraging any real value. Without policies to control what data is stored where, for how long and why, and with big data continuing to dominate the environment, sprawl becomes a serious issue. This not only vastly increases the storage capacity required, but can increase liability and risk. Content-based retention along with appropriate policies will ensure that data retention is optimised according to business needs and requirements. 


Increased regulatory compliance frameworks and data governance legislation require that organisations develop a deeper understanding of how to best retain, access, discover and defensibly delete content. This is a challenge due to the increasing volume, disparity and complexity of data. The CDO is tasked with ensuring the governance of information throughout its lifecycle, to improve eDiscovery and compliance, supported by enterprise-wide search capabilities.

Extracting Value

Deriving business value out of data throughout the lifecycle is crucial. This allows businesses to get closer to their customers, understand opportunities and differentiate themselves from the competition. However, understanding which data contains valuable insight is difficult, and important information may be retained in inaccessible storage tiers, which further complicates the situation. Implementing and enforcing appropriate policies is essential in ensuring that critical data is stored in a manner that is accessible. From this point, technology such as automated retention and destruction of records can assist. This will eliminate the manual processes and streamline discovery, improving insights and decision-making ability.

Technology backed by policy is the solution

There are a wide variety of technology solutions available to assist the CDO with managing data, however, this is only a part of the problem. The role of the CDO is not necessarily a technical one, but one that is concerned with business policy and business functions. Solving the data problem requires an in-depth analysis of the issue, appropriate decisions with regard to the implementation of technology, and co-operation between business and IT to develop and utilise optimal data policies. The best technology in the world will fail to deliver benefits if policies are unclear or not well understood, and this is the pivotal role of the CDO going forward.