Dr. Diane. E. Schmidt, Managing Director and Chief Data Officer at the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) speaks with Nazar Labunets, Product Marketing Manager at Ataccama, in a video interview about her professional journey, data strategy roadmap, delivering quick impact, a deep-dive into the CDO profile at GAO, the influence of leadership on the role, and the importance of community building.
GAO, often called the "Congressional Watchdog,” is an independent and non-partisan agency that works for the Congress. The office examines how taxpayer dollars are spent and provides Congress and federal agencies with objective, non-partisan, and fact-based information to help the government save money and work more efficiently.
Ataccama is a global software company delivering a unified platform for automated data quality, MDM, and metadata management—Ataccama ONE.
A long-time supporter of CDO Magazine, Schmidt begins the conversation by discussing her professional journey. She affirms being in the data management space for 30 years and is a data practitioner by trade.
She started on the IT side as a data architect project manager, managing data product projects and helping build operational data warehouses, lakes, and reporting and analytic solutions.
When asked about the role of a CDO, Schmidt says that the main role now is that of a cultural change agent. She notes that with people, processes, technology, and policy framework in place, culture is where the most impact is seen through behavior change. Data is on the trajectory to be recognized as an organizational asset and CDOs are to help lead, facilitate, create, and implement the strategies, says Schmidt.
Speaking on data strategies, she says that no strategy is alike and it depends on the maturity of the organization. The best data strategies articulate the voice of the organization, she adds. It boils down to discussing the problems and priorities, focal areas, and approach for mitigation resolution.
There is the factor of executive support funding resources while creating a strategy, says Schmidt. The strategy roadmap depends on the appetite of the organization, and what can be articulated, implemented, and adopted, she adds.
Further, Schmidt says that data strategies must answer the what, why, and how. They should not only assess what the challenges are and what needs to be done but also why it is being done and how it can be done.
In some cases, the technology stack is also included in the data strategy for possible solutions, says Schmidt. It is important for the leadership and teams to understand the impact and outcomes of the strategies on the organization, she asserts.
Commenting on the role of CDO in delivering quick impact, Schmidt says that a good data program takes time. It takes commitment, effort, and a leader who is creative, resilient, persistent, and can communicate with many types of stakeholders.
Dr. Diane. E. Schmidt | MD and CDO at the US Government Accountability Office
Hiring a CDO and committing to a data program is an investment, affirms Schmidt. She notes that CDOs are there to enable cost and risk reduction in the mission and some cases grow and change businesses.
As for the Government Accountability Office, the CDO enables and accelerates the mission in many ways, including timeliness, and maintaining client confidence. As a client, the Congress must be confident in the products distributed by GAO, says Schmidt.
When asked if the CDO role was misunderstood compared to other C-Suite roles, Schmidt says that there is no job description for CDO. She states that it depends on organizational maturity and some of the factors on drivers, scope, and expectations do vary. As the role was created in the 2000s, it focussed more on the defensive position, in compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. However, eventually, it turned more offensive, revolving around monetization, decision science, enablement, and AI.
In addition, Schmidt says that GAO is a data-driven agency that relies on good data and the leadership understands the added value of a CDO. She notes that the products are underpinned by good data and being a trusted entity good data and products are non-negotiable.
Moving forward, Schmidt the Comptroller General at GAO, with the leadership has changed the organization by focusing on the robust processes and how important data is to those products.
She asserts that it is crucial to feel that one can have a positive impact and that the work is being understood and appreciated. Schmidt also points out that CDOs need to fight for their seat at the table in many cases, therefore there is a need for education.
In conclusion, Schmidt says that a lot can be done as a CDO community to help each other and be successful through conversations and collegial sharing of information.
CDO Magazine appreciates Dr. Diane. E. Schmidt for sharing her insights with our global community.