Ogilvy did it. The Fed­eral Reserve did, too. Cities like San Fran­cisco and Chicago have done it. Even Philadel­phia. They’ve all seen the value in hir­ing some­one to help them inter­pret the increas­ing amount of data at their fin­ger­tips to cut costs, antic­i­pate trou­ble, and plan for the future. Should you fol­low suit?

The year 2012 pro­duced more than 2.8 zettabytes of data. That’s 21 zeroes after the num­ber. Big Data, indeed. That num­ber is expected to dou­ble by 2015. For the past five to 10 years, the CTO and the CIO man­aged that data. What started as a 10K race, how­ever, has become a marathon, climb­ing up the moun­tain of Big Data.

As infor­ma­tion sup­port­ing a com­plex, tai­lored, microsec­ond cus­tomer response has become crit­i­cal to sales and prof­itabil­ity, data has trans­formed into the cur­rency of mar­ket­ing. The role of the CIO broad­ened lit­er­ally overnight, owing in part to the huge value found in the stor­age, pro­cess­ing, and expo­sure of customer-specific per­ti­nent data.

The enor­mous task of find­ing the right data, and tai­lor­ing it to deliver a refined cus­tomer mes­sage, must be com­pleted in mil­lisec­onds. Tra­vers­ing that moun­tain of infor­ma­tion, built with row upon row of mil­lions of indi­vid­u­als, each with hun­dreds of columns of inter­ac­tion points, requires an intel­li­gent data inter­pre­ta­tion route, nav­i­gated and pre­pared for cus­tomers before they click. Technology’s progress, how­ever, is gov­erned by the speed of marketing.

Soft­ware can help com­pa­nies find that best route to refined response. Adobe has gone through exer­cises in the cloud to match prob­lems with solu­tions. Our lat­est mar­ket­ing cloud tech­nolo­gies help cus­tomers save time, pro­vide quicker insight, and assist in deliv­er­ing appro­pri­ate prod­ucts, right now. That said, there is an ele­ment owned by the com­pa­nies them­selves, where boots on the ground, within the com­pany, must inject some of their own DNA, train­ing their mar­ket­ing prin­ci­pals and tech­nol­ogy teams to find the data route that deliv­ers. Enter the chief data offi­cer (CDO).

Shawn Banerji, tech­nol­ogy advi­sor at senior exec­u­tive search firm Rus­sell Reynolds Asso­ciates, believes that the cur­rent per­cent­age of For­tune 500 firms employ­ing a CDO will rise to about 50 per­cent by 2015; it cur­rently hov­ers around just 5 per­cent. The actual role of that C-suite title, how­ever, is still var­ied and elu­sive, rang­ing from an exten­sion of the CIO to a direct link to the CEO, work­ing side by side to develop data inter­pre­ta­tion strategy.

In agree­ment with Mr. Banerji, I believe those firms cap­i­tal­iz­ing on data to drive and deliver an enriched cus­tomer expe­ri­ence will suc­ceed, sup­ported by the advan­tages  pro­vided by a CDO. As Big Data gets big­ger, expect the need for an intu­itive, intel­li­gent CDO to keep pace.

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