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IT's identity crisis: How to remain essential as the business evolves

Minda Zetlin | July 24, 2017
The perception of IT's value and its status within an organization are in constant flux. Here's how to stay relevant.

Similarly, at NCCI, the data resources division is a business unit, Spears says. It manages data from insurance companies, aggregates that data and turns it into useful insights that it provides to customers. "Data has been our lifeblood for almost 100 years," he says. "We were built on collecting data and making these end products available."

But when asked whether his role as CIO or CDO is most important, Spears says they both are. "It depends on how you look at it. On one hand, getting the data, and [ensuring that it's accurate and useful], is the most important thing we do for the company. On the other hand, everything we offer is through technology."

Larger organizations may truly need a dedicated CDO, says Christine Brady, CIO at Coastal Credit, an Indianapolis-based lender serving auto dealers in 26 states.

"Data is so vital to any organization's success — the complexity of your data, how many silos you have, how fragmented it is and what you need to do with it — that it could be a dedicated group on its own," she says. "At a certain size and complexity, I don't think one person can head up both of those."

But other experts believe data belongs firmly under IT's oversight. "If I were the CIO, I would want to make sure I owned data modeling, data governance — that I owned the data and had the right legal agreements in place," says Kevin Baril, a principal specializing in technology strategy and management at advisory firm Grant Thornton. If a company has a chief data officer, that individual should report through IT, he adds.

Keith Collins, executive vice president and CIO at SAS, a data analytics company based in Cary, N.C., with worldwide revenue of $3.2 billion, believes the growth of the CDO role at least in part reflects IT's failure to step up and take on one of technology's most important value-add functions. "The first thing I did in the role of CIO was I took all the [database administrators] and business analysts, and we did a week of data analytics training," he says.

"When I talk to a lot of my peers, I ask how much are they investing in education on basic analytics, forecasting and modeling, so they can answer a question for a business partner who wants to understand churn. The responses are mostly blank stares," he says. "Shame on IT, and shame on CIOs, if they don't help their companies analyze data without creating a separate organization that becomes another quagmire of who owns what."

 

Technology enabler or corporate strategist?

With so much IT going on in every corner of most organizations and outside IT leadership's direct control, some experts argue that the IT department's most useful role is to provide guidance, consultation and a secure and robust environment to support the often cloud-based systems it no longer owns. In this model, IT functions like a modern-day movie studio, says Charles Araujo, principal analyst at Intellyx and author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT Is About to Change. "Today, a movie studio owns the lot and helps with distribution," he says. "But they're bringing together a lot of other organizations that actually make the movie."

 

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