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If you really want to know what business leaders think is important, just take a look at who has a seat in the C-Suite. More and more these days, you’re likely to see a Chief Data Officer (CDO) among the faces.

So exactly what does a CDO do?

Many have described the role as a “data czar” who bridges the gap between IT and operations. But rather than having a largely technical orientation, the CDO is typically responsible for the business goal of using data to increase a company’s revenue and profitability.

It’s clear that the idea of a C-level executive dedicated to operationalizing data and analytics is gaining momentum. Gartner, in fact, believes that 90% of large organizations will have a Chief Data Officer by 2019.

A Shift in Thinking

This prediction comes as no surprise to Peter Aynsley-Hartwell, CTO at Utopia Global Inc. – a company that is all about helping customers get their data right and keeping it right.

“Companies are recognizing the importance of a Chief Data Officer because they are convinced that data is a valuable asset that can improve business insights and ensure a competitive advantage,” says Aynsley-Hartwell.

Further, today’s focus on Big Data is making managing that asset even more challenging. “Much of the information that companies now use in their analytics is coming from outside the organization,” explains Aynsley-Hartwell. “That makes it a lot harder to enforce standards in data governance.”

Can a Company Survive without a CDO?

In his position at Utopia, Aynsley-Hartwell oversees the development of solutions designed to improve operations through the use of optimized and dynamic data. Utopia’s enterprise-class data management services and software offerings include solution extensions for the SAP Master Data Governance application. (The company, by the way, uses the cloud-based SAP Business ByDesign solution to support many of its own business operations.)

Utopia counts some very large organizations among its customers. But Aynsley-Hartwell points out that you don’t have to be a big company to be concerned about data quality, data governance, and enterprise information management strategies.

And you don’t necessarily need a dedicated CDO.

Solid Advice for Everyone

“Companies can succeed without a Chief Data Officer,” Aynsley-Hartwell says, “but you must still have C-level support to make sure the entire organization gets behind the concept that data is a valuable business asset.”

In fact, Aynsley-Hartwell offers some sound guidance for whatever executive is responsible for driving a company’s data strategy forward.

“First, make sure the organization recognizes the importance of data and the positive impact it can have,” Aynsley-Hartwell says. “This requires a lot of evangelism.”

His second piece of advice is to provide the business with the technology needed to ensure that data can be governed as easily as possible. “It’s no use trying to govern data by making other people’s jobs harder.”

And finally, Aynsley-Hartwell advocates measuring the impact of your data strategy in dollars and cents. It is important to be able to quantify how much poor data quality is costing the business, or conversely, how much good data quality is making for an organization.

“If you can get these three messages through to the business, then you can be successful,” says Aynsley-Hartwell.

Please follow me on Twitter @JohnGWard3.

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