Return of the Chief Data Officer

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The position of chief data officer started appearing around a decade ago but didn’t really take off. There were headlines about appointments at a few large companies, like Capital One and Yahoo, which filled the position around 2002. But then the postings died down.

The job title is hot again, but this time it could be a real trend. Plus, the job is different than it was a decade ago.

Gartner recently said it has found more than 100 chief data officers in large enterprises today, more than double the number Gartner found in 2012. A quick search on LinkedIn returns 555 people who mention chief data officer in their profiles. Many of them come from large enterprises or government agencies, including Samsung, Seattle Children's Hospital, Wells Fargo, the City of Philadelphia, AIG and HSBC.

Those people, however, have a different role than their predecessors.

Cathy Doss, who was chief data officer at Capital One from 2002 to 2005, was responsible for the architecture of data systems as well as compliance with the company's data policies, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Similarly, Usama Fayyad, who was Yahoo's first chief data officer, was responsible for architecting Yahoo's data policies and managing the company's data processing infrastructure and analysis, according to the press release announcing his appointment.

But that was before big data. Now, the chief data officer's "job is to find new digital revenue from existing physical assets. The CDO guides the organization from not knowing what they don’t know about the data locked in their assets to actually doing something about what they know," Peter Sondergaard, a Gartner analyst, wrote last year.

The job is more about getting value from the mounds of data that businesses are collecting these days. For instance, Mark Ramsey, is chief data officer for Samsung Telecommunications America, where he is responsible for "governance and utilization of information as an asset," including business intelligence and advanced data mining, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Given the prevalence of big data in so many kinds of businesses, you'd think there'd be lots of opportunities for chief data officers. But a search for chief data officer jobs on LinkedIn brought back a single ad. Still, grappling with data is sure to continue to be a challenge and so it's likely that more and more roles for data experts will pop up.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring and on Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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