What Does a Government CDO Do?
Organizations are just now beginning to decouple the I from the T of IT, as described by Doug Laney, author of the influential book Infonomics. Gartner defines a chief data officer as follows:
“The CDO is a senior executive who bears responsibility for the firm’s enterprisewide data and information strategy, governance, control, policy development, and effective exploitation. The CDO’s role will combine accountability and responsibility for information protection and privacy, information governance, data quality and data lifecycle management, along with the exploitation of data assets to create business value.”
It's no error that the description sounds as much like a technologist as a manager.
“The best CDOs know how to handle people issues as well as tech issues,” says Katya Abazajian, a fellow at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center. The organization runs the State Chief Data Officers Network, a community of practice to educate about and improve how states use their CDO positions.
Indiana CDO Josh Martin is the second person to hold that position in the state. It was created by statute in 2017, and it’s Martin’s task to handle data analytics master planning, run the state’s central data organization, and advise and assist in the overall creation of government data. And he didn’t even start out in IT.
“My formal training is in public administration, and I’ve learned tech over time,” Martin says.
Martin uses his administrative skills to create data guidelines and policies, which requires working closely with other state agencies. “You didn’t have a data management professional in state government in the past,” he says. “It just didn’t really exist. Nobody was thinking about the secondary use of data.” It’s a big job; Indiana has 70 executive agencies.
Martin has a leg up for two reasons: His job is statutory and he has an $8 million annual budget and 40 staffers. Experts say the key to success for a CDO is having the authority to reach across agencies and the money to make things happen.
“You want them to create the overarching data architecture for the state,” says Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. “You need juice to be able to do that.”
Ken Pfeil became Virginia’s CDO in April. He came from the banking industry and noticed differences working in state government right away.
“You’ve got to build consensus at a much deeper level than in the private sector,” he says. Pfeil is an appointee, so everyone knows he’s only around for four years. The CDO also has a separate budget ($4.6 million) and the ability to reach out to cabinet members for assistance working with agencies when required.
Pfeil speaks with his CIO counterpart daily. “At the end of the day, we’re here to help our agencies make the right decisions with the right data,” he says.