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The C-Suite of the Future: How Big Data is Changing Things Up

March 21, 2014 by Updated June 16th, 2017

Big data and executives

The recent departure of Target’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) following Target Corp.’s massive data breach serves as a wake-up call to all upper-level execs that big data is starting to shake things up in the C-Suite. With the ability to capture, store and analyze huge amounts of customer data for competitive advantage comes the responsibility to keep that data private and secure.

In order for organizations to successfully and safely manage and benefit from big data in the future, C-level execs will need to take on new roles and adopt new skills, a number of which are outlined below.

As discussed in a recent Associated Press article about the Target breach, not all that long ago the basic job description of the CIO was to keep computer systems up-to-date and running properly, introducing technological innovations when needed, and creating and maintaining corporate websites. But with the introduction of big data analytics platforms and the escalating attempts of hackers to get at all that personal data, the job description of the CIO has changed. On the upside, the Target breach has shed new light on the plight of CIOs who have lacked the funds and the manpower necessary to effectively prepare for and prevent digital assaults. On the downside, as the AP article points out, “the surging use of personal smartphones and tablets in business settings has given CIOs even more technology to manage, along with countless new points of entry for hackers to breach their systems. As a result, CIOs have their hands full and a much more high-profile role than ever before.”

In the wake of the Target breach many CIOs say they are receiving more support from C-level colleagues. For example, Target has responded by hiring a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO). And undoubtedly other companies will follow suit. Still, CIOs feel that CEOs and other C-suite executives are scrutinizing them more closely than ever and that the departure of Target’s CIO sends a clear message that, should a breach occur on their watch, the CIO will be first to take the fall.

Although not discussed in the AP article, the challenges of managing and protecting big data will affect the roles and responsibilities of other C-suite execs as well. While in the past it was common for CEOs to let CIOs basically “do their own thing” in running the technical side of operations, today that is no longer a workable strategy. More than ever before CEOs need to work with CIOs in order to better understand what resources and support are needed to properly manage, leverage and protect sensitive customer data.

Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) will also need to work more closely with CIOs to make sure that the right questions are being asked during the analytics process—questions that provide the kinds of answers and actionable insights that can inform successful marketing campaigns. In addition, with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, CMOs will need to surround themselves with skilled analysts in order to make real-time marketing decisions based on insights gained from the constant flow of mobile and location-based data.

Clearly, big data is changing things up in the C-suite.

The main takeaway from Target’s data dilemma is that the proper and safe use of massive amounts of personal customer data is the responsibility—either directly or indirectly—of all C-level execs. Although Target’s CIO got tossed under the bus, the resultant loss in customers and revenue—Target’s fourth-quarter profit for 2013 fell 46 percent—makes all in the C-suite responsible and accountable. The upside for organizations is that as C-level execs work together more closely to make sure that sensitive customer data is properly managed, leveraged and secured, the many benefits of that big data collaboration will be realized far into the future.

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