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Chief Data Officer: Do You Need One?

MIT Big Data Symposium explores whether enterprises need a C-level executive who focuses mainly on the quality of an organization's data.
10 Powerful Facts About Big Data
10 Powerful Facts About Big Data
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The role of Chief Data Officer is relatively new in the corporate world. In fact, nearly two-thirds of CDO positions have been created within just the past three years, according to research by Yang Lee, a professor at Northeastern University's D'Amore-McKim School of Business and co-director of MIT's Chief Data Officer Research Program; and Randy Bean, CEO and managing partner of management consultancy NewVantage Partners.

But what exactly does a CDO do, aside from collect a sizable paycheck? The role is evolving, says Richard Wang, one of the organizers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Chief Data Officer and Information Quality (CDOIQ) Symposium, which takes place July 23 and 24 in Cambridge, Mass. The event, now in its eighth year, focuses on issues of data quality and the emerging role of the CDO within enterprises.

"If someone today tells you they know how to do the chief data officer's function, they're lying to you," said Wang, director of MIT's Chief Data Officer and Information Quality Program, in a phone interview with InformationWeek.

[Are your employees data savvy? Read The Data-Driven Workforce: 5 Critical Roles.]

The CDO's relationship with the other C-suite occupants, most notably the CEO and CIO, needs to be hashed out as well, he added.

The MIT CDOIQ Symposium enables attendees, whom Wang calls the "movers and shakers" of the data quality profession, to discuss the latest research and practices in the field. The group will include mostly senior executives, many personally invited by Wang, in education, technical, government, and business sectors.

Data quality, specifically the problem of bad data, will be another much-discussed Symposium topic. While the topic isn't new, it's one that organizations are beginning to pay greater attention to -- in part due to the rapid expansion of data.

In an interview last year with InformationWeek, big-data author and analyst Joe Maguire, who's also speaking at this year's CDOIQ Symposium, said bad data is primary a human shortcoming: We're imperfect data-gathering machines prone to typos, false memories, slips of the tongue, confirmation bias, and other foibles.

Add big data to the mix, and these flaws can become greatly pronounced, particularly in the area of confirmation bias. Said Maguire: "Confirmation bias deserves special attention. Besides producing bad data -- as when researchers rationalize discarding inconvenient data points -- it can also yield dismissive responses to good data."

This year's CDOIQ presentations will include:

  • Keynote addresses by Richard Watson, distinguished chair for Internet Strategy at the University of Georgia; Deborah Nightingale, director of the MIT Sociotechnical Systems Research Center; and Jeanne Ross, director of the MIT Center for Information Systems Research.
  • Data warehousing pioneer Bill Inmon on "The Role of Unstructured Data in the Big Data World."
  • Fern Halper, Director of TDWI Research on "Using Predictive Analytics for Business Advantage."
  • Citigroup Senior VP Mark Temple-Raston on "Data Management in Financial Services."
  • Don Soulsby of Sandhill Consultants will explore "Big Data Mythology."
  • Annette Pence of The Mitre Corporation will chair a panel on "Delivering on the Promise of Big Data -- Research and Case Studies."
  • Partners HealthCare CIO James Noga will lead a panel on the uses of big data in healthcare.

InformationWeek's June Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of big data. Find out one CIO's take on what's driving big data, key points on platform considerations, why a recent White House report on the topic has earned praise and skepticism, and much more.