Why the business must take responsibility for data

In the short time since my last post, there has been a spate of articles advocating for a chief data officer (CDO).

All of them glorify the role of a “data czar”, but they seem to ignore the challenges that data governance and data management professionals are already wrestling with.

For one thing, they ignore the uphill struggle that these professionals face in getting their peers in the business to take responsibility for their data.

In my view, the essence of the challenge is this: how do we get business leaders to accept the fact that information is an asset?

Asset management is a well-understood discipline in the vast majority of enterprises today so this should not intrinsically be an obstacle.

But when you look at how those same organisations treat their information resources, there is clearly a fundamental lack of appreciation and respect at virtually every level.

If information were truly managed as an asset, we would not see such poor quality data. We would not see use employees using multiple versions or the truth for decision-making, and we would not see major privacy breaches on such a frequent basis.

It is clear to me that business leaders are not taking the notion that information is a corporate asset seriously at all.

Relegating responsibility for information to the IT department does a disservice to the entire organisation. IT has neither the resources nor the political clout to do anything more than “facilitate” information management policies handed down from above.

Back to basics

In essence, information management consists of two basic categories: managing data and mitigating risk. In most organisations, there are legion IT workers focusing on the data, while a more select group manages the risk.

Managing the risk associated with data, also known as “data governance” is a relatively recent phenomenon, and has a spotty track record to date.

Proponents of a CDO role argue that the new role would take responsibility for both the functions, and acts as a liaison to the business units on data-related matters.

But in my view, appointing a CDO does little, if anything, to change the organisation’s view of information as an asset.

If anything, it will obscure the business leaders have a natural responsibility for managing one of their most critical and leveragable assets; their information.

Given the current state of the industry, it appears that they would rather have IT identify a “new neck to choke” when things go awry with information resources, if there is a bad regulatory report created or, even worse, when a privacy breach occurs.

This cannot go unchallenged. We cannot continue to create new information-related roles to abstract responsibility for information stewardship from its natural owners – the business.

In my next installment I will focus on creating a business-led culture of information and analysis within any enterprise.

Richard Lee is the managing partner of IMECS, LLC, an executive consulting firm that works with senior executive teams in the domains of business transformation, governance, risk and compliance, advanced analytics and business Informatics. Prior to this role, Richard was the data governance officer at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) and director of its enterprise information transformation programme.

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