More than 70% of organizations today employ a Chief Data Officer (CDO), up from a mere 12% just a decade ago, according to research conducted by New Vantage Partners. But as the role of the CDO continues to grow in popularity, much debate remains around what, exactly, the role entails.
What is a Chief Data Officer?
First things first: what is a chief data officer? A chief data officer plays many roles within an organization. They are:
A strategist, responsible for developing the data strategy for the organization
An evangelist, preaching the good word of how data drives value and better decision-making
A technologist, architecting the right set of tools and technologies needed to drive value from data
A change-maker, advocating for why their organization needs to change their mindset and treat data as a valuable asset
A communicator, influencing the organization to realize the value of data and use it to drive better decisions
Responsibilities of a CDO
Chief data officers can have a myriad of responsibilities. In some organizations, they have a broad remit, reporting to the CEO and having full responsibility for all things data. In other organizations, their responsibilities are split with a Chief Analytics Officer (CAO), where the CDO manages the data and the CAO assumes responsibility for analytics. But regardless of the structure of the organization, CDOs generally take responsibility for the following:
1. Data Strategy
A primary responsibility of a CDO is data strategy. The CDO develops and implements a data strategy for the organization that aims to deliver the clean, integrated, continuously-updated data needed to make better business decisions.
Today, many CDOs focus their strategy on treating data as a product by implementing a data product strategy through the design and use of data products. By elevating the value of data as an asset using data products, they are able to make it discoverable and consumable for everyone across the organization. This approach is a surefire way for them to finally treat data as an asset and drive greater value from it.
As part of their data strategy, CDOs also define the organizational hierarchy of their direct reports, including the need for new roles with different skill sets ranging from DataOps engineers and data scientists to analytics engineers and data product managers.
Depending on how the CDO chooses to implement their data product strategy, a data product manager could be a crucial new hire. This role is responsible for designing, building, and managing the cross-functional development of a data platform, or a suite of specific data tools, in order to serve multiple internal and/or external customers. A data product manager is not a data scientist, nor are they a data engineer. Instead, they are skilled at working cross-functionally to identify challenges, define requirements, lead teams, remove obstacles, and deliver products.
2.DataOps and Technology
CDOs also take responsibility for DataOps and the related data technologies needed to support their data strategy. In some organizations, this responsibility spans data and analytics, while in others, the CDO partners with a CAO to realize greater value together.
In the words of Tamr CEO Andy Palmer, DataOps “emphasizes communication, collaboration, integration, automation, and measurement of cooperation between data engineers, data scientists and other data professionals.”
As the executive responsible for data, the CDO leads the way when it comes to implementing DataOps. They assess the need for purpose-built tools, ranging from data mastering and data catalogs to data governance and AI/ML.
3. Data Security, Privacy, and Governance
CDOs are on the front line when it comes to data protection. And with recent regulations such as GDPR and CCPA emerging, this topic is growing in importance. In fact, we predict that CDOs will be dedicating greater focus – and more budget – to ensure they remain in compliance and can realize the full value their data holds.
Finally, and often overlooked, is the responsibility CDOs have for change management. As the role of the CDO evolves, their focus will shift from solving data technology problems to solving business problems. This shift will require greater collaboration and communication with business partners in order to drive the changes needed to treat data as an asset.
What to look for when hiring a CDO
When looking for a CDO, it’s important to assess their experience across a wide range of skills and to recognize that their backgrounds may be quite diverse. Some CDOs may come from the technology side of the house, while others will have experience grounded in the business.
However, as Richard Wang, Director, Chief Data Officer & Info Quality Program at MIT and Professor at University Arkansas, Little Rock, says“the business of the CDO is business, not technology.” To that end, it’s important to consider skills such as communication, change management, and collaboration when evaluating potential CDO candidates.
Also, because the role is still relatively new, it’s likely that many potential candidates will not have prior experience as a CDO. That’s why it is important to consider well-rounded candidates who can speak fluently about both strategy and technology, while also demonstrating their ability to collaborate with and influence peers across the organization.
Clearly, the role of the CDO is growing. In fact, many hope that in the future, every organization will have a CDO, just like every organization has a CFO or CMO today. Identifying what role you want your CDO to fill, and clearly defining their role and responsibilities, is a critical step towards elevating the value of data for your organization.