Data Driven in a Digital Age the Real Challenges of the CDO

We all know the CDO role is evolving, it didn’t exist a few years ago. In fact, this article from Gartner suggests 90% of large organisations will have a CDO by 2019 but only half of them will be successful. The investment required to bring in a CDO as well as the further investment they will want to secure, it seems a risky decision to appoint, and possibly a costly one if they fail. What challenges does the CDO face and why?

What is the ‘D’ in CDO?

A CDO is either a Chief Digital Officer or Chief Data Officer. The definitions of which are just as ambiguous as ‘data governance’ itself, and are very much dependent on the activities the organization wants to achieve. How do companies decide whether they require a chief digital or data officer or a hybrid of both and possibly more?

It’s obvious the digital counterpart is more easily recognisable in today’s online society, more so, it’s relatable. An article from TechTarget – ‘Chief digital officer vs. chief data officer: Who will win the day?’ refers to the same, the title itself reflects a key challenge in the success of a CDO. Edward Qualtrough of CIO.co.uk has written two articles in which, again, the chief digital officer comes out on top. They potentially earn more, and the lack of statistics and information on who a chief data officer reports to again suggests a lack of appreciation or understanding of the role itself. On top of this, the reference to ‘data’ combines data management and analytics. Not all Chief Data Officers do both.

The challenges so far

Definition: It’s clear the biggest and most immediate challenge of a CDO is the definition and understanding of what they do. As the topic of data can be broken down even further, I’ll focus on that – information-mangement.com summarise the chief data officer job description quite well here. In summary, this CDO should establish the corporate data model, the information management strategy, and most senior level sponsorship for the cultural adoption of data initiatives with an emphasis on data standards, governance and quality.

I’ve written before about the shift of data and information management from IT into the business over the past 5 years (read my post here). The role of the CDO is to facilitate this shift.

Reporting Line: Should, therefore, a CDO report into the CIO or other senior executives? Chief data officers could most likely find themselves in the same battles as directors or head of function if reporting to the CIO, fighting for investment and resources. Not to say that the CDO and CIO activities completely conflict, but to significantly influence the cultural and behavioural change that is required for data initiatives the CDO should report to the highest executive level, and this could be the crucial factor in the CDO’s success.

What’s next for the CDO?

The question here should really be what’s next for your organisation. Appointing a CDO will add significant value, potentially huge cost reductions, increased revenue , the catalyst for transformation and the ability to react quickly to internal and external changes.

Don’t kid yourself if ‘data’ has been thrown into your business strategy. Instead, allow the CDO to define your data strategy and align your business objectives, put data at the forefront of your organisation, treat it as an asset and by 2019 a higher percentage of CDO’s will succeed but more so, your business will flourish.

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