Uncle Sam’s New Chief Data Officer a Sign of the Times

by Jeff Brown

via Joi Ito

via Joi Ito

Data analytics is transforming the way organizations do work, and one clear indication of its widespread impact is its recent spotlight within the public sector with the announcement of the White House’s first Chief Data Officer, Dr. DJ Patil.

Patil was most recently an engineer and entrepreneur who helped create Silicon Valley’s first data science team at LinkedIn in the mid-2000s. He played an instrumental role in the development of the “People You May Know” button, now synonymous with the business focused social networking service.

And while Harvard Business Review declared the Data Scientist occupation “sexiest” back in 2012, CDOs don’t act in a vacuum — and Obama’s administration has been preparing for this new hire to develop a strong team of technology innovators at the Capitol.

Dr. Patil joins a team of leaders at the White House already committed to technology advancement and innovation. According to a recent CIO Journal article, Patil’s hire was influenced by a handful of “prime movers” — ranging from Obama’s previous Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, to CTO of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Todd Park. These influential leaders have instilled a focus and discipline on technology for the administration. From open data resources of government data to standardization of electronic health records, it appears government is trying to clean out its processes, beginning with IT.

Not only did strategic leaders attract this new talent, but the move was targeted to bring others like him into the fold — to grow an initiative called the Presidential Innovation Fellows to recruit new minds and fresh tech thinking into government.

The role was created to help shape technology policies and practices, foster partnerships that maximize the U.S.’s return on its investment in data and to recruit and retain those with a high level of data expertise. The measure of this investment will be in a newfound ability to see patterns in government data in new ways.

The announcement of a CDO to influence decisions as high up a Commander-in-Chief is sure to make headlines, but the real question still is this: How can Chief Data Officers be effective? Furthermore, does this role really cause a strategic shift for organization in their application of consistent data analysis?

That is certainly the intention, and it’s too soon to tell how Dr. Patil will impact the current administration and government bureaucracy. With this new hire, how will data science best practices be employed at the governmental level? The jury is still out.

Regardless of future roles and practices in data mining and predictive analytics, there is a new reality in public and private sectors: Leveraging high quality, informative data to gain insight into consumer behaviors gives companies in every industry the tools to compete in a modern, data-driven market. When used strategically, these tools can provide a much-needed differentiator to identify audience — and constituent — needs effectively today.

As government embraces the strategic importance of IT, others might benefit from taking a page from their book. The CDO role is gaining momentum, and it’s an investment that can be transformative for business if properly leveraged.


headhsop backdropJeff Brown is currently a Product Manager at Infogix, Inc. where he is responsible for working with product development to create customer driven solutions. Prior to this position, he worked as a Senior Consultant with IBM Global Business Services. He has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Michigan State University and an MBA from DePaul University.