In the annals of trendy corporate job titles, there was chief marketing officer--created when branding was king. Then, in the Internet age, came the chief technology officer.
Introducing the latest in executive styling: the chief data officer.
"It's an industry first, and I predict within a few years, most companies will have the position of chief data officer," said Usama Fayyad, who wears that hat at Yahoo Inc. "Data needs a voice at the executive table."
It's interesting to see the discussion of data overload in this context. Yahoo certainly sees a lot of data come through its servers in the form of advertising click-throughs, searches, shopping, games, etc. Even well-connected computer users collect tons of data, though they probably don't think of it as such: email, business contacts, articles, photographs, etc. Of course, with cheap storage, it is easier to collect more and more data, and the problem seems even larger. The problem the article (and the role) addresses is the same problem that's been around for a long time: what do we do with all this "stuff" we have?
At one level, companies (and people) need to collect the data to examine performance and look into the future. The business intelligence / data mining community does a great job of using large data sets to find interesting correlations. The medical community have discovered all sorts of things by examining large data sets.
On the other hand, I would argue that the problem all this data represents is that we don't know what is important until after the fact. I recall a talk from a chief learning officer joking that they would record the number of chairs in the room because it might be useful information at some point. This sounds to me like a different problem. What information do we need to make useful decisions? How do we know in advance what is going to be important tomorrow? This would imply a strategic view of what the organization is doing today and where it is going tomorrow. It is that strategy that should direct the data gathering and data analysis efforts.