Role of CDO Still in Question

Loraine Lawson
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A Big Market for Big Data Jobs

What if organizations don’t need a chief data officer so much as they need an executive team that understands and relies on data?

I stumbled backwards into this idea by misreading a shortened UK CIO headline: “Bank of England doesn't need a CDO, claims CIO.” As happens too often with tech, it turns out CDO is short for chief digital officer, not chief data officer.

Chief digital officers have more to do with transforming paper tasks to digital. If you want to read more about their job duties, ZDNet published a good trends piece about the role.


It’s worth noting, however, that there may well be some overlap between these two different CDOs. For instance, the article talks about playing with data in a sandbox.

But what I found pertinent to this pressing issue of managing data: New Bank of England’s CIO John Finch suggests digital transformation shouldn’t rely on one person:

“I don't think we need a CDO – I think we need a group of tech savvy policy people. So if you think about the bank as a regulator, it has policy experts that look after fiscal, monetary economic policy. They really need to be educated as tech savvy employees so that they can understand information in the broadest sense, where it's coming from.”

Isn’t the same true for data? Actually, isn’t it even more important for data, since data-driven organizations outperform their peers financially?

It also occurs to me that as you shift to digital business processes, more data is the inevitable consequence and using that data is a key component of successful transformation.

And clearly some overlap occurs in that area. International SOS Chief Data Officer Rich Gallagher told ZDNet his job is very product-oriented.

Likewise, as I recently shared, Peter Sondergaard, a Gartner senior vice president and the global head of Gartner Research, states that a chief data officer is “best placed in direct support of executives already responsible for product development. That way, the CDO’s focus is locked squarely onto a specific asset or product.”

It seems that at the very least, these roles could be combined in some way. Sondergaard suggests that the chief data officer may be a temporary change agent. That approach would also certainly accelerate how quickly companies can become digital and embrace data as a business strategy.

Gartner says the chief data officer is a growing trend, but another question or data point in this conversation is evident: Richard Lee, the managing partner of IMECS, LLC, contends the role of chief data officer is not coming from the business.

“All of the noise and posturing regarding the role is coming from technical thought leaders and consulting practitioners, and not the C-suite or the board,” Lee wrote. “This is very problematic if the CDO role is to gain the organizational momentum and support it would need in order to be valuable.”

That raises serious questions about how successful such a person could be. But Lee identifies an even bigger problem, and one that should concern all the hard working information management folks out there:

“It appears as though organizations are abandoning their existing data management and information governance teams in favor of a ‘czar’ who reports directly to the CIO or risk/compliance executive.”

As more tech-savvy generations reach the executive suite, the need for both types of CDOs may diminish as data and digital become business as usual. But until that time, and especially given the unruly growth of data, some sort of leadership on data must exist. The question is: Which approach will be the most effective?



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