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Chief Data Officers in the Government – What Role Should They Play?

The volume of data available to and collected by the public and private sectors has exploded in recent years. With the proliferation of information being generated and shared, companies and agencies are trying to manage, store and make sense of it all.

For many entities today – both private and public – data has become such an essential component that they have created a Chief Data Officer (CDO) position to reside in the C-suite. Government Technology notes that since Colorado became the first state to appoint a CDO in 2010 and New York City paved the way for local government in 2011, the ranks of CDOs in state and local government have reached dozens.

The highest level of federal government has followed suit, with NextGov reporting that the Obama administration hired a top digital technologist to serve as the nation’s “chief data scientist in residence,” six years after this administration created the position of U.S. Chief Technology Officer. This announcement came shortly after the Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, USDA, the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services, the FCC, Federal Reserve and other independent agencies announced the implementation of the Chief Data Officer role.

This evolution clearly acknowledges that the data being collected by agencies is a separate entity from the systems running it, and the rise of the CDO is a testament to the growing importance that agencies are placing on data and data management. Now that the CDO is giving data a permanent seat at the executive table, it’s worth examining the role of this executive in properly unlocking the potential of big data in government agencies.

Upon ascending to the position, the majority of time and effort for any CDO should be directed internally, at least initially. Agencies are aware of the importance of big data, but because of its volume and complexities, it can be difficult to extract its true and full value. As noted in FCW, an ideal candidate for this role understands government data and resources, in particular the data those in the organization, partner organizations and the public find valuable.

A CDO must assume responsibility for developing and promoting data-savvy managers who will work in tandem across the agency, to ensure the organization is treating data as a strategic asset. Using analytics and proper education, the CDO can help managers staff call centers appropriately and cut down on inefficiencies. If not already created, a CDO would benefit from instituting an agency-wide data governance policy with unified standards, working in tandem with the Chief Privacy Officer and the Chief Information Security Officer.

The rise of the Chief Data Officer in government agencies is an exciting and transformational change that elevates the significance of data. In future entries to this blog series, we will continue to discuss the role of the CDO in the public sector and examine opportunities to use data in agencies to drive innovation, efficiency and transparency to the public.

About the Author

Charles (Chuck) Brooks serves as Vice President/Client Executive for DHS at Xerox. Xerox is a global product and services company that serves clients in 160 countries. Chuck served in government at the Department of Homeland Security as the first Director of Legislative Affairs for the Science & Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a Senior Advisor to the late Senator Arlen Specter and was Adjunct Faculty Member at Johns Hopkins University where he taught homeland security and Congress. Chuck has an MA in International relations from the University of Chicago, and a BA in Political Science from DePauw University. Chuck is published on the subjects of innovation, public/private partnerships, emerging technologies, and issues of cybersecurity.

Profile Photo of Chuck Brooks