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Big data boom drives need for new Chief Data Officer role

Big data drives need for CDO role

6 steps for incoming government Chief Data Officers | 🕒 4-min read.

Viral Chawda

Principal – Innovation & Enterprise Solutions

KPMG in the U.S.


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As governments at all levels recognize how data and analytics (D&A) can help improve their services and outcomes, many are recruiting chief data officers (CDOs) to help build data science capabilities. However, these newly-hired executives are wise to take careful, initial steps to overcome typical policy, organizational, cultural and technical barriers, to help their agencies gain full value from the vast data at their disposal.

Introducing the chief data officer role

While the CDO title is relatively new in the government and commercial realms, many organizations have found it invaluable to have executive-level oversight of their D&A activities.

This c-suite leader can serve as a D&A champion, while promoting data-sharing among groups, setting data policies to create standardization of data assets, and establishing enterprise data governance. They often also lead enterprise data strategies, develop ‘data as a service’ to department ‘clients’, and coordinate cross-agency analytics initiatives.

If the CDO’s job scope sounds broad, the challenge is compounded by the fact that governments often have multiple, distributed data silos and, frequently, antiquated data management infrastructures that impact data quality. In addition, the absence of data governance structures, or an internal culture of data sharing, can make the CDO task large and time-consuming.

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Best first steps for government CDOs

In light of the diverse challenges CDOs face, they must find ways to effectively meet the needs of their agencies’ clients and make the most powerful impact with the available resources.

Based on industry leading practices, and experience from successful D&A engagements, here are some prudent initial steps for a CDO to head a successful program:

  1. Create, validate and communicate a vision: To help focus all efforts to benefit the enterprise, a CDO’s first, fundamental step is to create a written vision statement that aligns D&A activities with executive and legislative objectives. They need to validate this vision with their executive and then communicate it to other leaders to achieve awareness and buy-in.
  2. Form a working group to develop the D&A strategy: The CDO should form a working group with representatives from different agencies and departments who can help plan and shape the D&A strategy. It’s vital to recruit members who are passionate about D&A and the new vision. Ideally, delegates should also have the authority to make decisions. CDOs should consult with the CIO or other established technology leaders to find such candidates.
  3. Construct initial inventory of data assets: Before developing the D&A strategy, the CDO should identify, at least at a high level, the data assets in place, under development and planned for development. While data assets naturally include the available ‘data’ and processes, they also include ‘organizational components’ like data governance and management, and corresponding skill sets, and ‘technology’ aspects, relating to the current infrastructure. This inventory should also cover ‘analytics,’ and take into account the techniques currently being used to extract value from data.
  4. Gather and understand existing D&A initiatives: It’s important for the CDO to identify and understand ongoing or planned D&A initiatives, particularly if separate agencies are conducting independent programs in which synergies could be achieved.
  5. Prioritize opportunities to exploit D&A assets: With all the above information gathered, the CDO’s working group can prioritize candidate D&A improvement projects. Among the key criteria: Programs that align with executive and legislative objectives, that will clearly and quickly demonstrate value, and that will offer sustainable results. Sustainability will hinge on whether the necessary infrastructure is in place and if the D&A project will offer early, demonstrable results. The plan must therefore contribute to building the right, long-term data infrastructure but also prove early value.
  6. Select and execute a pilot project: The final step in this process is to execute a well- designed pilot to highlight the benefits of D&A, prompt buy-in from agency officials and provide helpful lessons to ease later program expansion.

Developing a flexible, effective D&A strategy

While the sequence or prioritization of the planning steps a CDO should take will naturally vary depending on an organization’s specific needs and priorities, they form invaluable building blocks to help the D&A leader chart a solid strategy.

One caveat is that in government, objectives and priorities can shift suddenly, along with budgets, changes in administration or mandates. So CDOs must be prepared to revisit, reevaluate and revise their D&A initiatives accordingly.

Despite the challenges of building a data culture in government, the potential applications of D&A are endless. Under the leadership of a capable CDO, governments can break down silos to better share information, develop standards and best practices, and effectively tap into data assets to achieve better outcomes for their citizens.

About the author: Viral Chawda is a managing director of KPMG’s Data and Analytics Center of Excellence. Over the past 19 years he has helped large commercial and government organizations to optimize and monetize their data assets.

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