In the Market: The Rise of a CDO in Government

People   |   Andy MacIsaac   |   Jun 29, 2020

If you’re a Chief Data Officer (CDO) in the public sector, it’s no surprise to you that data is increasingly important both inside and outside the Washington Beltway. Both the public and those holding the purse strings are demanding greater transparency and accountability.
According to Gartner, data and analytics leaders are fast becoming impactful change agents.

In government, agencies are under increasing pressure to leverage data to better inform policy development, evaluate program results, and deliver better services — all within the context of shrinking budgets and the continual call to do more with less.

If you are a new CDO supporting a federal agency or a state, county, or city government, congratulations. You have the opportunity to make an impact and optimize the ability of your organization to harness the strategic value of data to improve operational effectiveness, optimize resources, and in many cases, improve the lives of your constituents.

CDO Challenges and Roadblocks

But what about the challenges you will face as an analytics leader? According to Gartner, the successful CDO needs to identify and prioritize how they will handle the “formidable roadblocks” that are sure to crop up, including people, culture, and internal resistance. For example, you might see some of this in your first 30 days:

Six Common Scenarios Uncovered by New CDOs

  1. Dueling Spreadsheets
    Data workers use their own spreadsheets with no governance or version control.
  2. IT (Un)modernization
    A legacy-technology replacement program without lineage or impact is in place.
  3. Data Silos
    Business unit fiefdom means little, or there’s no data or insight sharing.
  4. Unrealized Aspirations
    Leadership wants to increase citizen engagement or increase operational efficiency using data but lacks the expertise and technology.
  5. KPI (In)visibility
    Leadership lacks clear dashboards and next-best actions.
  6. Analyst (In)efficiency
    BI and Analytics teams spend more time on data issues than on insight.

Where the CDO Fits Within an Organization

Some might say that since data is primarily an output of IT systems, it makes sense for a CDO to report to IT organizations under the CIO or other IT Executive. This might make sense on the surface, but then there will be a question of priority given to data analytics versus other critical IT-related needs.

According to the 2019 State CIO Top 10 Priorities, data management and analytics, the primary bailiwick of the CDO, ranks eighth place. In other words, the state CIO is more focused on strategic initiatives around security, cloud, and optimization. This does not mean state CIOs are against analytics.

Government CIOs have a lot on their plate. The survey indicates that data analytics is valued as a process, but has not risen to the level of being a driver of organizational culture within the traditional IT world of government.
The CDO is expected to be the change agent who drives the organizational culture that will make government insights-driven. However, if they remain strictly under IT, that mission is going to be more difficult.

Focus on Innovation and Performance

Not all CDOs find themselves tucked under the purview of IT. In fact, some CDOs are positioned to report directly to organizational leadership as key team leaders focused on innovation and performance.

In places like Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Louisville, the respective CDOs are integral parts of their mayor’s innovation agenda. Some states are also taking the lead in making sure their CDOs are within arm’s reach of their governor, reporting directly to secretaries of policy and administration instead of the CIO.

leading the way

The role of the CDO, at least from a U.S. Federal Government perspective, has received a lot of attention thanks to the passage of the OPEN Government Data Act in January of 2019.

A significant component of this act is a requirement that all federal agencies appoint or designate a qualified CDO without regard to political affiliation. This requirement recognizes, according to Jane M . Wiseman from the Kennedy School of Government, that “many government agencies are awash in data but struggling to analyze and make sense of it.” The exception is in cases where a government agency has appointed a leader to manage the transition to a data-driven culture.

Historically, government agencies have relied too heavily on people performing manual tasks, rather than on technology and automation.

As agencies shift towards a culture of open data, there is tremendous opportunity to automate and leverage data to make better decisions. The primary challenge of the government CDO is taking advantage of this opportunity.

Operating in the Expansive World of Data

A recent article in Forbes highlighted that, across industries, even though data challenges are growing more than ever, organizations must come to terms with their data resources. The responsibilities, role, and value of the CDO is not clearly defined nor universal.

For government CDOs to become leaders of transformative innovation — that is, building towards a culture of analytics — they will need to focus on a few fundamentals:

  • Build the right data foundation with an end-to-end analytics platform and enable talent

  • Be able to scale analytic talent

  • Embed analytics into every layer of the organization

  • Explore and leverage innovation from others

With the right level of organizational support, building a culture of analytics within government is more than achievable, but the adage that Rome was not built in a day provides some good guidance on understanding that the transformation won’t happen overnight.
The Chief Data Officer function is here to stay in a data-driven world. Organizations, including government, must continue to adapt and manage their data strategies and expectations.

Embrace the Change and Grab Your Building Blocks

The important thing is to embrace the change and to take a long-term view toward building a culture of analytics, but act now. Start by putting the building blocks in place to enable your analytics team and your organization.



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