Early Days for the Emergent Chief Data Officer

A few weeks ago, I attended the Innovation Enterprises Chief Data Officer Summit. I found the extreme diversity of opinions expressed regarding CDOs informative. I wanted to capture them here for a broader audience to consider.

From what I heard, it remains early days for the CDO role. There is significant difference in the titling, and more importantly, in the functions performed by the role. The largest body currently for CDOs is the MIT International Society of Chief Data Officers. Their leader claims to have 150 CDO Members. In terms of statistics, he says that 23% of U.S. entities now have a CDO. However, CDOs are claimed to be mostly a U.S. phenomenon. They are almost non-existent in EMEA. The Society leader says that where CDOs exist, they are focused first and foremost on their partnership with the CIO.

The Society leader states the biggest challenges for emergent CDOs are as follows:

  • How to partner better across the enterprise
  • How to negotiate ownership of customer data from the CMO
  • How to tell GMs that their team does not have time for their project
  • Determining which tools are enterprise ready
  • Putting together successful business cases

I found particularly interesting from the list the telling GMs that they did not have time for their pet project. Historically, CIOs have struggled with integrating demand management. Additionally interesting, being a successful CDO was seen to require three skills—strategy, governance and data science. The latter directly challenges the notion of their also being a Chief Analytics Officer. Clearly, not all of the CDOs that I met at the event had a background driving analytics, but many did. In fact, the CDO of Zynga gave a talk regarding the need for training more data scientists. The Society leader said, you need all three skills, but a CDO needs to be an expert in at least one.

From the CDOs speaking at the event, here are my key takeaways:

    1. CDOs shared openly that different business situations drove the creation of their role. Answers given included: regulation, business transformation and getting data and analytics to critical mass.
    2. CDOs discussed their different reporting relationships. Answers included the business, the COO and the CIO. Advantages and disadvantages were seen for each reporting relationship.
    3. CDOs owned different portions of the organization, as well. Some own just risk and governance. Others owned functions like DBAs and enterprise architecture. And others owned data architecture, data governance, data analytics (data scientists) and data assets. At new-age companies, data science was a clear CDO focus.
    4. Most CDOs are putting significant focus on how to be a great partner with their CIOs.
    5. Most CDOs are focused on producing data which causes them to own the data science function, also.
    6. Data quality is a big issue for CDOs who say that they want “data to be stable, comprehensive and complete.”
    7. When asked about CIOs, they said CIOs and CDOs need to be tightly linked. Each need to be back to back. CIOs need to understand that it is not a zero-sum game.
    8. CDOs claimed as well that data maturity isn’t static—it needs to be continually maturing because data is like a dead fish. It smells worse as it gets older. Data was seen as a driver of decisions, and that by necessity, this brings data quality to the forefront.
    9. CDOs say that they are trying to transform their businesses with data.
    10. Big Data was seen as responding to the needs to different personas than traditional data warehousing.
    11. As the amount of data continues to grow, CDOs need to comply with regulation at the same time as they make sure data fuels business innovation.
    12. CDOs need to make sure that data is designed for business users. Historically, data was seen as being managed and created as an afterthought.

Parting thoughts

It seems clear that the role of CDO is in its early stage. Whether it will catch on and become a standard operating function is unclear still. The thing that is clear from my CIO interviews is they want to be data custodians rather than data stewards and leading the data governance function. To me, these intentions, plus the ownership of data science, are the potential wedge issues which could drive CDO function to gather steam and a secure place within the enterprise.

Article written by Myles Suer
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