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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