Rise of the CDO reflects the rising role of data

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609179193As technology evolves, so do the c-suite roles related to technology. In particular, the roles of Chief Digital Officer and Chief Data Officer – both referred to as CDO – have seen rapid changes.

This post will document the changes I've observed in these two roles, and answer questions I've heard as our customers have been navigating the changing technology landscape.

Does CDO stand for Chief Digital Officer or Chief Data Officer?

The answer is both.

Some organizations have one or the other, but many have both. The chief data officer, often coming from a statistical or data science background, is seen as responsible for data management and governance in the organization. The chief digital officer, most often from IT or marketing, usually has a broader remit, responsible for digital transformation across all lines of business.

Both data and digital officers are important roles.

It's not just that companies are using different titles for the same role. The two have very different views of the world, very different background, skills and mindset. A chief data officer may well report to the chief digital officer. In this scenario, the chief data officer's remit of managing data as a strategic asset will therefore inform part of the chief digital officer’s wider view.

Management and governance versus transition.

One way of looking at the two roles is to consider management and governance vs. transition. The chief data officer is responsible for the management of data as a strategic asset, and therefore for its governance. The chief digital officer is responsible for overseeing the organization’s transition into a digital one. It may be that the chief digital officer’s role will lose its importance as digital becomes the norm – most provocative leaders even say that this is the ultimate temp job, but it is hard to see the importance of data lessening.

Is there tension around the CDO’s role?

It is a bit of a generalization, but a chief data officer is usually appointed to sort out a problem, often data governance. There is, therefore, likely to be some tension around the CDO’s work, especially in the c-suite, because the job requires stepping on a few toes when necessary.

Data is the digital transformation enabler.

The digital era is all about everyone and everything being connected anytime and anywhere. In a hyper-connected world, the volume and nature of data are exploding: 20+ billion connected things by 2020? The role of the digital officer is not to define new business models. Rather, the goal is to help the organization move into a new way of functioning. The organization should become more agile and more creative, where models are constantly evolving based on market, customers and employees insights. Ideas are to come from all lines of business.

Business managers want data, but do not want to handle it.

Because data leads to insights, everyone wants access to it. But they do not want to deal with the messy, complex bit: correcting it, and making sure it is good quality, and then managing it on an ongoing basis. This, it seems, is best left to someone qualified: usually the chief data officer.

The relationship between data and technology remains crucial.

The CDO also has to fit with that of the Chief Information Officer. CIOs are generally responsible for both data and technology, and have a key role in bringing them together. The remit of the CIO is therefore wider than data alone. The CIO sees data as part of a bigger technology and information picture.

There are a good many new c-suite roles emerging in the wake of the digital revolution. As well as the two types of CDO and a CIO, many organizations also have a chief analytics officer. Often, this proliferation of roles is a sign that the original c-suite responsibility-holder may not have had quite the right skills. Or, it can reflect the growing importance of technology in the C-suite. The crowded nature of the c-suite is less important, however, than ensuring that the organization has the skills it needs to move into a digital world.

CDOs have a role in breaking down boundaries.

Part of the reason for appointing CDOs—of whichever type—is because the responsibility for data and for digital technology tends to fall between traditional functional areas. Both types of CDO therefore have a role in working across silos, and breaking down boundaries. By creating new business models using analytics, new insights can be generated that serve the whole business.

Ultimately, CDOs help to create value.

There is little or no intrinsic value in data: the value is in how it is used, and the outcomes it can generate. Both data officers and digital officers have a role in helping to create value from data. The first does so by ensuring that the organisation has good data governance systems so that data is ready to use. The second does so as part of an overall digital strategy.

In digital transformation, data must be fit for purpose to support innovation. 

New business models to support innovation need good data. That means data that is both good quality, and timely. Ensuring that this data is available is a key function of the chief data officer. Making sure it is used right is for the chief digital officer. The two roles are  definitely complementary. No matter who reports to whom those organizations that will succeed in transforming themselves will be those who leverage most and best the CDO x CDO network.

To explore this topic further, read the archived Twitter conversation that inspired this blog post.

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About Author

Christine Coudert

Southwest Europe Marketing Director

Christine Coudert is passionate about leading Marketing & Communication teams on their transformation journey, enabling strategic vision to become reality. Marketers role has changed a lot, from ROI to Relevance & Reputation, always aiming at revenue. With 23 years working experience in Marketing & Communication, in Europe and South East Asia, she is familiar with entrepreneurial spirit, complex matrix organizations, C-level expectations, direct and indirect strategies, large and SME segments. What she is most interested in are multi-cultural environments and challenges. What drives Christine beyond anything else is change management in digital transformation.

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