Data Literacy and the CDO

I attended a CIO Event in New York today and there was a great session focused on Data Literacy, presented by Jordan Morrow from QlikView.

Simply put, Data Literacy (in a business context) is a person’s ability to read, understand, analyze and communicate data as actionable information, including using data to support an argument or a proposal.  Jordan conveyed that only ~20-33% of those surveyed (including senior executives) considered themselves Data Literate. At the same time, 80% of senior executives see leveraging data as an asset will be critical for continued success and growth.  

Responsibility for increasing the data literacy falls to the CDO, and should be a high priority, as it is a prerequisite for an organization achieving maturity in the data leverage space, and is a springboard for data innovation.

The benefits are clear.  If an organization achieves a higher level of data literacy, they will:

  • Be able to define a vision that more closely aligns with overall mission
  • Develop a strategy that aligns with culture and is more implementable and focused on achievable objectives
  • Distribute the execution across the organization with more stakeholder buy-in
  • Include data as a basis for decision-making
  • Improve professional skepticism around quality of data

If people are sensitive to the nature of data, they can be expected to incorporate risk-awareness when deciding how to handle data – for example, knowing they are handling PII may cause them to exercise better judgement around it’s treatment, or ask an SME for guidance.

It’s a tall order, especially given the acknowledged low current state of literacy, but can still be approached in a pragmatic way.  There are a number of methodologies out there for increasing Data Literacy that can be adapter to an organization.  Here are some thoughts on approach:

  • The CDO should chair a leadership-level steering committee with representation from all business areas, which sanctions the CDO’s agenda and champions the program;
  • Data Literacy should be on the agenda as a core element and critical-success-factor;
  • Steering committee members should become data literate;
  • Careful thought should go into how the literacy program in rolled out:
    • Culture is hard to change (and requires ongoing messaging and overt steering committee/senior leadership support)
    • Training triggers eye-rolling, especially if it’s not closely tied to a person’s day to day responsibilities
    • Raising literacy is iterative, and should be tied to roll-out of capabilities or products, so awareness and training is relevant and just-in-time.
    • Wins should be celebrated.
  • Since richer datasets might incorporate regulated data, Data Literacy training/awareness should cover appropriate data handling, based the nature of the data.  This has the added bonus in that if it’s delivered just-in-time, it will be more relevant to the use-case being introduced.

I came away from the CIO Event reminded that even though CDO responsibilities are growing on the market-facing side (e.g., data monetization), they should also be responsible for ensuring everyone in the organization is realizing the benefits of the “data economy”.

Contact me at james@jhoward.us


Information Management and Governance, Uncategorized

The Case for a Broad Scope CDO

Information exists is all forms, spread across organizations, and available throughout the marketplace. Forward-looking organizations are identifying and categorizing information assets with a view to leveraging it – perhaps by enhancing existing products and services, by creating net-new revenue opportunities, optimizing business or financial operations, or to more effectively manage risk.

Treating Information Like an Asset

Like with any asset, and as a responsible business person, the Chief Data Officer (CDO) establishes the vision and goals for information use, and implements strategies to achieve that vision – whether they are monetization, product/service-enhancement or business optimization.  As a responsible steward, the CDO governs the information through its lifecycle, and manages risk in a way proportional to the threats, and in consideration of the value of the asset and stakeholder expectations.  

Handling techniques are aligned with the nature of the information and take into account the way the business wants to use information; 

Depending on how the information is stored, transmitted and processed, threats and vulnerabilities may run the gamut of cyber – from traditional hacking all the way to sophisticated industrial espionage schemes – as well as non-technology based threats, such as physical loss, destruction or theft. 

Depending on the nature of the information, it may be subject to a variety of obligations – contractual, GDPR, PCI, HIPAA/HITECH, GLBA, client expectations, etc., many of which include principles-based and/or prescriptive handling requirements, with a wide range of legal, financial, and/or brand damage consequences in the event information is mishandled, lost or breached.  

Stepping Back

So taking a step back, we’re describing a business environment where

  1. The market is demanding a greater degree of data use,
  2. Data science is providing ever expanding opportunities, and
  3. The range of vulnerabilities/threats/obligations are more complex than ever.  

Everyone seems to be focusing on information, and the opportunities and stakes are huge.  Responsible organizations wanting to lead their industries will exploit information assets, meet compliance obligations and manage risks proportionally – and as a result, derive value. 

Role of CDO

It is difficult to see how to manage information in a balanced way in a traditional organizational structure where the revenue/leverage focus of information is separate from the protection focus, which is further separate from compliance focus.  It would seem unrealistic to expect to be fast-moving, nimble, risk-aware and compliant, if data leverage, protection and compliance are all managed in parallel organizations, often with different success criteria and subject to different measurements.  

Organizationally, this suggests building the Office of the CDO by pulling together:

  1. Data vision and strategy: interfacing with senior and business-line leadership, establishing a vision for data use, and defining the strategy to achieve the vision;
  2. Data Governance and Management: designing, building and operating processes and controls for handling information throughout its lifecycle;
  3. Obligations compliance: monitoring and respecting the rules and expectations; and
  4. Information protection: understanding threats and vulnerabilities, and ensuring they are addressed in a proportional way.

Among business trends, information leverage is seen as having the highest potential to deliver maximum value back to organizations.  To derive that ROI, the CDO needs to have the organizational authority to influence and/or drive activity across the enterprise, whether it’s to enable existing product lines’ information ambitions, or to cut through organizational politics and roadblocks.  To achieve that they need to report to the highest levels of the organization, accountable to the management committee and Board. 


This model has a host of advantages:

  • It enables senior-level visibility and buy-in for information-related initiatives, 
  • It focuses talent on exploiting and managing a critical corporate asset as a primary objective,
  • It forces the protection efforts to operate in a way that’s proportional to the value of the assets being protected, and the risks to which they’re exposed,
  • It aligns compliance to the way an enterprise wants to use information, and the relevant aspects of the obligations,
  • It raises the profile and creates focused awareness around the information assets,
  • It provides for career opportunity and satisfaction for the participants, because they are more closely exposed to the revenue cycle of their employer, and
  • It aligns investments more closely with objectives and return.

Information is increasingly viewed as the new natural resource. It presents opportunities that can be exploited along with risks that can be managed.  And the pace of change is increasing. Organizations should lay the groundwork now to position themselves for the new Information Age. 

Contact me at james@jhoward.us