Barclays Chief Data Officer Usama Fayyad believes that "everything is Big Data now" and says the emerging role is a poisoned chalice at organisations who do not empower their CDO. [See also: Chief Data Officer job description and salary - What's the role of the CDO and how much do CDOs get paid?]
Group Managing Director and CDO Fayyad, a former rocket scientist who spent seven years working at NASA in the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, outlined the importance of the Chief Data Officer role in banking and financial services at the CDO Exchange in London earlier this year.
"There are lots of opportunities and dangers in a changing data landscape," the former Microsoft executive said. "If you think of the Chief Data Officer as governance only then you will fail; without delivery and execution it's an impossible job.
"I think 90% of CDOs fail, and if you are not an organisation that is going to let the Chief Data Officer try things and deliver then you will fail."
Chief Data Officer and the customer
Fayyad said the CDO was crucial in re-establishing the customer intimacy which large institutions have lost.
"Banks should care about data because it's about customer intimacy," he said. "Previously the bank manager knew everything about their customers and it was trivial: who was buying a house, who was getting a divorce, who had children - but they lost that with scale.
He said that the three duties of the CDO in banking now was to be able to exploit all available data, to proliferate analytics throughout the organisation, and to drive significant business value.
The former Yahoo exec also quipped that the Chief Data Officer job title was invented as a joke between Fayyad and Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang.
Fayyad had co-founded data mining and strategy consulting company DMX Group in 2003, with the startup which specialised in Big Data analytics acquired by Yahoo the following year.
"We created the CDO title at Yahoo; we invented the title which started out as a joke after laughing with Jerry Yang about what title to take."
Future of the Chief Data Officer role
Fayyad said that the importance of data for organisations was not going to wane, but that uncertainty around the future of data analytics will perpetuate the difficulty of the role.
He said: "The distinction between classic data and big data is disappearing, in fact I think everything is Big Data now. Every company is a Big Data company, even small companies and dairy farmers.
"I am yet to meet a CIO who has said to me: 'Next year I'm going to want less data storage'. Nobody knows exactly what's going on and the changes are huge."