Feb 12 2019

What Is a Chief Data Officer?

As data pours into businesses, this new role in the C-suite can take control of data governance and help companies make the most of analytics.

These days, enterprise data is a company’s most crucial resource. Effectively gathering, analyzing and applying that data will be vital in helping businesses improve operations and deliver on customer expectations. But as data becomes ever more ingrained in how companies forge a path forward, businesses have begun to set up leadership roles specific to managing data effectively and keeping data use in compliance with constantly evolving regulations.

Enter the chief data officer, also known as the chief analytics officer, a role that heads up a company’s data analytics operations, transforming data into business value and driving data-related business change. 

VIDEO: See how retailers are capturing data to make customer personalization a reality.

What Does a Chief Data Officer Do?

Traditionally, the responsibility to oversee data collection, organization and use has fallen to the CIO. But as data use grows in volume and importance, the chief data officer position has emerged. 

The CDO is responsible for governing data across the enterprise and overseeing data-related functions, which can include managing data, building a data strategy and ensuring robustness and quality of data. The CDO also manages analytics and champions the use of data across an enterprise to bring about cultural and operational change.

In practice, the CDO must possess both technical know-how and effective communication skills. Project Open Data describes the CDO as “part data strategist and adviser, part steward for improving data quality, part evangelist for data sharing, part technologist, and part developer of new data products.”

The duties of a CDO should not overlap with those of the CIO or chief privacy officer, despite some similarities in how the positions appear to function. Instead, a CDO should work in concert with others in the C-suite to ensure the effective and compliant use of data.

DOWNLOAD: What do finance firms need to know about GDPR?

The Main Responsibilities of a Chief Data Officer

The duties that fall to the CDO will differ depending on the organization, but in general, they include:

  • Ensuring compliance with data security and privacy regulations
  • Overseeing the data lifecycle
  • Managing data quality
  • Developing an overall data and analytics strategy
  • Coordinating and leading data initiatives
  • Creating business value from data assets

The CDO should also work closely with the CIO and IT team to ensure that enterprise data is readily available and actionable for the organization.

It should be noted, however, that as initiatives such as customer personalization and real-time engagement begin to take hold, the role of the CDO is changing.

According to a recent report from Deloitte, CDO roles are expanding as businesses move to digital. Now more than ever, CDOs are asked to serve as data champions and drive change, improve the value of data as a strategic asset and explore the uses of artificial intelligence, all with the aim of improving operational efficiencies and controlling costs.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: What does it take to tackle data privacy in the Big Data era?

What Education and Skills Do Chief Data Officers Need?

Because the CDO’s role varies from company to company, so do the expectations companies have for them. Companies seeking to hire a CDO might list the following requirements:

Education: A Ph.D. in a data-related field, such as data science, computer science, management information systems, statistics or analytics

Experience: Ten or more years of experience in a senior data analytics or data science position within an organization, as well as experience in building and leading data science initiatives and advocating for analytics

Skills: Solid interpersonal and leadership skills, commensurate with a C-suite position, plus the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with other departments in order to drive the most value from data

SEE MORE: Can Analytics as a Service help your small business turn data into action?

What Chief Data Officers Can Offer Businesses

The CDO role has grown in popularity among businesses in recent years, with nearly two-thirds of firms reporting that they have a CDO, according to a 2018 survey from New Vantage Points. This number represents a huge upswing from six years earlier, when just 12 percent of companies reported having a CDO.

No doubt, the number of CDOs is growing as the amount of data available to businesses expands. By 2020, the number of connected devices will reach 20.4 billion, according to Gartner. Without effective oversight, much of the data these devices create will sit in silos and never produce meaningful insights.  

This is where the CDO steps in: He or she can work with teams and tools to get a full view of an organization’s data and then put it to work to solve customer and operational challenges and improve business operations.

The CDO’s expertise is especially important when determining how data should be handled, because not all data should be handled the same way: “Some data, we just need to bring it in and store it. Other data, we need to know where it lives and how it’s changing. Other data, we just need to keep it for a short time,” Anthony Scriffignano, chief data scientist at Dun & Bradstreet, tells CIO.

Moreover, with the advent of data privacy legislation, such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), appointing a leader to understand and control how data is managed within an organization could be more crucial than ever.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Surveillance data could be the key to optimizing in-store retail operations.

Challenges Facing Chief Data Officers

It’s important for businesses to understand exactly what they want from a CDO and to provide the person in that role with the tools and access they need to reach realistic goals. In fact, one of the greatest issues in hiring and keeping CDOs is that companies have very different ideas of what the role can deliver.

“One of the biggest mistakes is not understanding what it will take to succeed, in terms of expectations,” Guy Gomis, partner at the recruiting company BrainWorks, tells CIO. “If you look at a lot of the people who have had the title of chief data officer and chief analytics officer over the last three years, there’s a tremendous amount of turnover … It turns out that the expectation of the company and the candidates were not aligned.”

Other challenges for the CDO persist; among them, a cultural resistance to change that holds back progress for data-driven initiatives, according to the New Vantage Points report. To overcome this, companies should work to support the CDO in furthering a culture across the business that seeks to gather and use data efficiently.

ConceptCafe/Getty Images

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.