Chief Data Officer (CDO) vs. Chief Science Officer (CSO)

I was thrilled to read the article published last October in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century" (Thomas H. Davenport and D.J. Patil, Harvard Business Review, October 2012). In my years focusing on information management in Insurance, no one has ever been close to describing my job as sexy…! Granted, I’m not a data scientist myself – but given my geeky tendencies for data, I’ll still take the compliment.

It’s good to finally see appropriate attention paid to the power of information across the insurance value chain, particularly in atypical areas and through non-traditional means. Though, there is still an opportunity for data capabilities to mature significantly across the industry.

The growing prominence of two key roles is helping that quite a bit – enter the Chief Data Officer (CDO) and Chief Science Officer (CSO). AIG is the first major carrier to name these diverging yet complimentary roles at an enterprise level, and other small carriers are taking key steps to follow suit.

Though both are relatively new disciplines, the roles are beginning to take shape.

Chief Data Officer (CDO) – Think of this role as the structure and the rigor. It may not be very stimulating, but you can’t do the big stuff without first getting the fundamentals right. Responsibilities for the role can include:

  • Oversees Data Management Office (DMO) and related shared services
  • Accountable for Data Governance
  • Defines data standards and policies
  • Manages standard business taxonomy and data dictionary
  • Provides common tools and platforms
  • Responsible for data quality monitoring and management
  • Drives prioritization, provides budget, and oversees execution for related business and technology initiatives
  • Oversees data audits and largely supports regulatory compliance requirements

Chief Science Officer (CSO) – Now things start to get a bit more exciting... The CSO role is focused on what you can find in the data, not what you may think you’re looking for. But, it’s important for the organization to set expectations about what should be and what can be achievable in terms of outcomes. The CSO:

  • Manages an emerging capability of data exploration, often utilizing techniques atypical in the Insurance industry (i.e., beyond actuarial sciences)
  • Seeks patterns and trends in structured and unstructured data through big data initiatives
  • Responsible for R&D activities and data-driven proofs-of-concept (POCs), including topics like social media analytics, usage-based insurance (UBI), and speech analytics (e.g., Verint / Nice)

I, for one, look forward to seeing more insurers take on these disciplines to unlock the value of their internal information assets.