What's with all these chiefs?

John Gilroy

About a month ago, TechAmerica released a white paper discussing big data and the federal government. Of the many recommendations, one that stood out was the suggestion for each federal agency to have a Chief Data Officer (CDO) to assist in looking for opportunities to leverage large, diverse, and rapidly changing data sets. A similar digital inundation in the world of web design has generated the title named Chief Experience Officer (CXO).

Just for fun, wouldn’t it be nice to sit in a staff meeting with the CEO arguing with the CDO about an initiative to assist the CXO? Heaven forbid if they make a decision without consulting the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), the Chief Information Officer (CIO), the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), the Chief Mobility Officer (CMO), the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), or the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).


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The TechAmerica report went on to define that one of the activities of the CDO will be to collaborate with other agencies that jealously guard data sets.  Social stratification in the school yard has taught us that a third grader would certainly not associate with a lowly second grader, let alone share data when they grow up. This expresses itself in the corporate suite – should a CDO even attempt to collaborate with a subaltern who may not even be a “Chief” of anything?

Spock, pointy-eared science officer

Pointy-eared science officer

An argument can be made that titles have always been stretched. The ancients even enjoyed the game, most noticeably when Caligula attempted to make his horse a senator. Today’s social networks amplify this flexibility with titles where the 175 million people who use LinkedIn all have noble, possibly senatorial skills. After reviewing several hundred LinkedIn profiles, one would rightfully conclude that each and every one deserves a seat in the corner office.  

To whom shall we attribute title inflation? From my perspective, I’ve got to look in the mirror. Baby boomers like me sit at the feet of Garrison Keilor’s notion that all the children are above average. Children of Haight & Ashbury crowd certainly should not be forced to earn their way to the executive lunch room. At the Thanksgiving Day dinner table, this grey haired generation would much prefer to discuss the nuances of job titles of their brood rather than college debt vagaries and iPad variations. Card-carrying boomers are a perfect target for promoting title inflation. After all, in 1966 we were the ones to rally behind a pointy-eared “science officer.” In today’s world, we would ask, was he the “chief” science officer?

About the Author

John Gilroy works at Armature Corp. and is decidedly not the Chief Data Officer. However, he is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, the resident computer guy at WAMU 88.5 FM as well as being the host of Federal Tech Talk on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500 AM.

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