The rise of the chief data officer underscores how pervasively enterprises have identified the need for C-level minds to extract value from analytics.

Fully 45% of just over 3,000 respondents to a March 2015 Forrester Research survey have a CDO at their organization, and “top performer” enterprises with 10%+ annual revenue growth are 64% more likely to appoint CDOs. About a third of CDOs report to the CEO and another third to CIOs.

Often working through a matrixed organization, CDOs can help overwhelmed IT teams put the right strategic focus on analytics. If they succeed, business managers at all levels can use higher volumes and varieties of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data to make better decisions about customers, competitors and operations. But how specifically does a CDO accomplish this?

The answer varies widely based on the circumstances and maturity of the enterprise. Rarely does a CDO inherit a pretty situation. In their report, “Top Performers Appoint Chief Data Officers”, Forrester analysts Gene Leganza and Jennifer Belissent point out that negative events such as security breaches or disappointing results often prompt the appointment of a CDO to improve data governance or assess new market or customer dynamics. “Data maturity gaps” depend on enterprise capabilities (i.e., technology and tools), processes and skills, and “overarching data culture.” There is no shortage of work to do.

Through our work with Fortune 2000 organizations across verticals such as financial services, healthcare/pharmaceuticals, technology and manufacturing, we at Attunity find a persistent technology obstacle to maturity.

IT leaders are trying to manage data repositories they don’t understand. For example, they cannot see data usage, BI user activity, CPU usage or performance trends. Without these metrics they cannot control activities or resource consumption, and therefore strain their budgets just to meet existing requirements. Many incoming CDOs need to help IT fix this problem before they can hope to work strategically with the business to capitalize on new opportunities.

Here are two examples of how we see successful enterprises laying a foundation for mature data management, focusing on data warehouses and Hadoop data lakes. CDOs can use these techniques to get their shop in order.

• Deploy resources based on EDW usage metrics. We work with a global pharmaceutical company that manages a data warehouse with more than a petabyte of data, and users and data volumes that grow 50% to 80% annually. Their IT team tracks KPIs for business unit activity for specific data to support chargeback. They also off-load unused tables to Hadoop for cost savings, and satisfy auditor inquires by documenting usage of sensitive PHI records. In short, with the right metrics IT can invest wisely. They can control and justify their budget based on how the business consumes IT resources.

• Improve analytics response times by understanding the bottlenecks. Application DBAs at one of the world’s leading tech manufacturers have created a dashboard of historical analytics for application testing and tuning to easily identify specific application users, their usage trends and patterns over any hours, days or weeks. This enables them to identify root causes of delays, and rapidly tune and optimize applications to improve response times.

Customers, competitors and operational problems create many analytics demands for IT organizations. CEOs are hiring CDOs because they recognize that rising data volumes, variety and velocity, coupled with rising requirements, have put IT budgets on an unsustainable path. Enterprises need a focused C level executive to build an analytics organization that carefully manages inputs and outputs. We find that CDOs and enterprises can get on the right path by applying basic yardsticks to what is happening today within their data warehouses and Hadoop data lakes.

Once they understand today’s operations and get them under control, they can look unflinchingly to a future in which data is an asset and never a liability.

(About the author: Kevin Petrie is the tech evangelist at Attunity)