Should Chief Data Officers be Insiders or Outsiders? Perspectives from an “Outsider” CDO
Michael Conlin has a strong opinion. In the last InnOvation, Ed Kearns, then an “insider” CDO for the Commerce Department, Introduced us to an article by Innovators Circle members Diana Zavala, Judy Douglas, et al, that examines, Should Chief Data Officers be Insiders or Outsiders? How the Answer Can Boost Organizations’ Effectiveness and Innovation. Ed asserted that the CDO should be a peer of the CFO, CIO, and Business Unit Leaders to ensure that all decisions are fully informed from a variety of balanced perspectives .,, and that insider CDOs have a distinct advantage in this. Conlin shares a different perspective.
“As Robert Heinlein said, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t a fish.” Vanishingly few government employees will have a grasp of the art-of-the-possible in data management, data analytics, data science, etc. Government organizations simply aren’t doing innovative enough work for existing government employees to lead the way into this ‘brave new world’”.
The relentless competitive pressures of industry, especially the consumer-oriented sub-sector, are where data innovations are developed every day. Government needs to attract data leaders from industry. Those data leaders need to attract additional talent from industry. Both the leaders and the talent need to develop professional networks that enable them to tap into best practices from the commercial sector.
There are two primary considerations: data maturity and commercial sector parity. The lower the organization’s level of data maturity, the higher the need to source data talent from outside, in particular from organizations with a high level of data maturity. Similarly, the further the organization is from parity with commercial sector best practices (where the art-of-the-possible is advancing aggressively), the greater the need to attract a leader from outside. This reflects the expectations from the President’s Management agenda and the Federal Data Strategy.
End of rant.
Michael Conlin, Chief Data Officer, US Department of Defense (and veteran of industry)