In an interview with Information-Management.com, Jill Dyche, vice president of thought leadership at SAS, discusses the trends that are elevating the data discussion and forcing the executive suite to become involved in data strategy.

Your recent focus on the role of the chief data officer and the approach for establishing a data strategy and chief data office is the foundation of your keynote at the upcoming MDM and Data Governance Summit in New York. Would you give us a preview of your presentation?

[The keynote has] a clever title – “Data at C-Level.” It’s about the chief data officer in the new era of IT, and I’m going to leverage three models: CDO Light, CDO Medium and CDO Bold. But I’m going to play off of those not just in terms of the chief data officer, but the new awareness of data among other C-level executives. Because beyond marketing a lot of executives have a new attention focused around data for their own particular purposes, and so what do they do, what do they delegate and what do they partner on [to execute a data strategy]. I think one of the forces behind the rise of the chief data officer is a lot of these executives, like the CFO and the chief marketing officer, don’t necessarily want to run the governance or want to run the enterprise infrastructure that enables data sharing. What I’ll talk about at the Summit is the engagement across the C-suite when it comes to information as a business enabler and what they need to keep and what they need to shed in terms of data responsibilities.

Do you think that will be a difficult message for people to hear, or do you think they’re prepared to begin thinking with that mindset?

I think a lot of executives will be ready. And I think this is validating for a SourceMedia audience because I think they have watched the increased efforts of lines of businesspeople or even lines of business IT organizations to incorporate data responsibilities only to have underestimated their complexities. So they said “Oh, yeah, we’ll do that. It’s our data, we own it anyway. Whoa – you mean we have to match customers in order to identify them and that requires technology investment? And you mean data modeling still matters? And there needs to be a semantic layer? We didn’t bargain for all that. Here, take it back.” So I think there’s some sort of a meeting place in the middle there and a lot of those decisions need to be driven not by the people who are actually managing the data, but by the people who are running the business organizations that consume the data.

The attendees at the Summit understand the value of MDM and data governance. But as you’ve mentioned, not every organization is ready for a chief data office and chief data officer. How do you gently tell someone they may not be ready for this and yet they need a big-picture data strategy?

I think the way you convince them is to emphasize the importance of evolving toward the role and abandoning the intention to appoint somebody. In other words, make sure your technology portfolio around data management is robust. Make sure the processes for reconciling and cleansing and correcting and annotating the data exist. And then lift your head, because then you’ll be in a much clearer space to decide whether somebody needs to be the figurehead above all that or not. I think that one of the big things that we see with a lot of our customers is that as executives start to discuss this, they’re not even aware of what some of those incumbent capabilities are and they assume that those have to be built from scratch. I think it’s validating for some of these businesspeople that attend the Summit as well as some of the data people who attend; it’s the “Hey, we’re here. We’ve been doing this, we know this space, and we can actually broaden those capabilities in order to support a more robust function around true information management.”

Are there industry trends evolving or coming to fruition that are pushing the data discussion and the need for a data strategy?

There are many, but two that come to the forefront. First the trend of various vertical industries having their own market forces that are forcing the data conversation. In health care it’s things like meaningful use, ICD-10 and Obamacare, where data needs to be at the forefront of compliance. In banking there are new regulations in North America around CCAR, which is the government mandate for data auditability, so that’s forcing the data conversation at the C-level. So there are specific forces across industries that are inviting this conversation.

I think from a horizontal perspective we’re seeing a realization that there are pockets of data management across the organization that executives recognize the potential for consolidating in order to achieve not only economies of scale and cost savings but productivity. Consider the traditional example of every line of business has its own data quality tool. I think executives are starting to recognize that’s a symptom of a larger problem, which is pockets of competence across organizations in their companies where data may be managed differently. So bringing that together is a huge opportunity, and one that because of the other reasons I mentioned executives are newly paying attention to.

For more information about the MDM and Data Governance Summit taking place October 5-7, 2014 in New York City, please visit http://www.information-management.com/conferences/mdmnewyork/.

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