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What is a CDO?

A Chief Data Officer, or CDO governs data across an organization. The role itself is continuing to evolve. In a 2019 survey, only 28% of participants stated that the role appeared “successful and established”.

Specific job responsibilities include:

  • Developing strategies
  • Master data management
  • Ensuring data quality
  • Developing data strategy
  • Business analytics
  • Drives business value from data assets
  • Coordinating and leading projects
  • Ensures compliance with regulations

“The CDO is the executive who holds the keys to help an organization both protect and unlock the full value of its data assets,” writes Deloitte.

What combination of education, skills and experience are necessary for this role?

Education: While the precise requirements vary from one organization to the next, many organizations look for a Ph.D in a data-related field. These fields include computer science, data science, management information systems, analytics and statistics.

Skills that the CDO role requires include:

  • Knowledge of data science
  • Business acumen
  • Industry domain knowledge
  • Leadership capabilities
  • Strong communication skills
  • Abilities to draw connections between data, analytics, business processes and outcomes

Experience: Likely requires experience driving value, facilitating new opportunities, and delivering cost savings.

CDOs commonly contend with trying to meet multiple objectives. The objectives themselves are often varied and may require a diverse set of skills.

Who does this person typically report to?

Contention still abounds regarding who the CDO should report to. Some suggest the CEO or COO, while others favor other org chart structures.

What has the evolution of the CDO role looked like?

In the US, the role emerged to assist with inventory and data asset management. In Canada and Europe, the role initially developed to help organizations, such as banking institutions, meet data regulatory compliance mandates. Today, over 25% of Fortune 500 companies have Chief Digital Officer (CDO) positions. In recent years, the CDO’s role has evolved from one focused on data gathering, governance and stewardship to one centered around driving the value-creation agenda and catalyzing business growth.

What does the future of the CDO role look like?

  • Heightened collaboration with the CIO, who –until this point- has owned the data dictionaries, analytics, etc.
  • Increased communication with the board emphasizing that data is a business enabler
  • Monetizing data for competitive advantage
  • Transformation of the organization into an insight driven enterprise
  • The CDO role may be reconfigured into a ‘Chief Data and Analytics Officer’ position

What challenges does the CDO typically face?

  • Aligning with executive-driven business agendas
  • Building trusted relationships
  • Complying with detailed and demanding regulations related to data access and quality
  • Contending with the complexities of data management and analysis
  • Gaining buy-in on implementing emerging technologies
  • Producing results that incentivize stakeholders to continue providing budget and support

The role of a CDO at a startup:

Startups may or may not need a CDO, depending on how much data is volleyed through systems.

Notable quotes about the CDO role:

“Social engineering hacks prevail as the top choice for gaining access to sensitive company information. The CDO should be the first in preventing these hacks!” – Cyber security evangelist, Edwin D.

“One could argue that the top two responsibilities of a strong cyber security program are to protect an organization against financial threats and to protect the company’s data”. –Cyber security evangelist, Mark O.