Lately, there's been plenty of discussion about the ways becoming a digital enterprise is the next stage for insurance companies. The advantages are tantalizing: offering real-time access to customers and markets, as well as virtualizing operations to the point in which information will move seamlessly across the organization, as well as between agents and brokers.

As carriers move in this direction and begin to adopt digital approaches, this begs the question of who will be best suited to lead such efforts? Ideally, of course, everyone — from the CEO to the CIO to line-of-business managers — should be engaged in the digital charge. But someone needs to bring it all together. Gartner, for one, predicts that within the next year, one out of four organizations will have chief digital officers (CDO) to oversee the drive to digitization.

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In a recent issue of IBM Data Magazine, Paula Wiles Sigmon does a good job of outlining what a CDO can do for an organization. It's important to note, she says, that CDOs' roles will differ from company to company.

For example, in some companies, CDOs may help relieve the workloads of chief information and chief technical officers. “These tasks include maintaining and expanding applications, keeping up with changing technology, and leading the shift to cloud computing and a mobile workforce,” Sigmon writes.

For others, CDOs may be more focused on leveraging data to transform their organizations into analytics-driven enterprises. Identification of new sources of data might be a CDO responsibility. A CDO's role, for example, may include “finding and exploiting new data sources, whether from new business partners or from big data sources such as machines (machine data) or people (social media),” Sigmon explains.

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The CDO becomes, in essence, a developer and executioner of corporate data strategy. “The strategy itself can cover a broad range of issues such as data ownership — for example, who owns the data that marketing uses to understand and properly target customers and prospects? It also covers data quality — for example, who is responsible for keeping data clean and timely?”

An important part of the CDO role is the person that bridges both the IT and business sides of the organization — one who can evangelize the role technology will play in expanding and enriching the business.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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