Role Redefined: Chief Data Officer

According to IT research and advisory company, Gartner, approximately 90 percent of large organizations will have a Chief Data Officer by the year 2019.

What is a Chief Data Officer?

A Chief Data Officer (or CDO) is a senior executive responsible for a company’s data, governance, information strategy, policy development, and effective exploitation of company data, spanning the entire enterprise.

The Chief Data Officer (average annual salary: $179,039) is different from an executive with the same acronym: the Chief Digital Officer. The Chief Data Officer is accountable for verifying which information a company will capture, retain, and exploit, and for what purpose. The Chief Digital Officer’s responsibility is limited to technology or information systems that store and process the organization’s data.

invisible business man and data server concept


Why was the Chief Data Officer position created?

According to MicroStrategy CMO, Mark Gambill, “The CDO was born as an attempt to create a bridge between functional leaders who need information in real time and the IT department”.

Gambill explained that the rise of the internet allowed everybody to have information about everything. It became “challenging, frustrating, and expensive” to gather all the available information. Experts realized that there was a need to build the right infrastructure that will help them access and extract data.

Part of the CDO’s responsibility is to investigate platforms and security. Then, he or she would generate surroundings which would allow users to access necessary information.

Simply put, the CDO helps users to access essential data on their own laptops and PCs, without having to approach the IT Department in order to retrieve the data. The CDO makes sure that an organization’s system is seamless while it operates.

However, like other executive roles, the CDO has his or her share of concerns.

What are some of the challenges that CDO face?

Governance and leadership

According to Martin Fleming, VP, Chief Analytics Officer and Chief Economist at IBM Corp., the primary and most crucial challenges that CDOs face are governance and leadership.

Fleming said that a CDO can face marked challenges in reorganizing expenses, altering management, and “the ability to create the business benefit from taking the broader view of data”.

Redundant responsibilities

Some companies hire a CDO without a clear view of that person’s responsibilities. According to Michael Guggemos, CIO at Insight Enterprises, most of the CDOs he knows are “actually doing the board-level responsibility of a CIO.”

Reporting structures are different for each organization

CDOs have a C-level designation. However, some CDOs are subsidiary to other C-level roles. Some report to the COO while others report to the CFO. In some companies, the CDO reports to the Chief Digital Officer.

People tend to resist change

It can sometimes be an arduous task to obtain technology investment capital, executive-level support, or the authority needed to successfully affect positive change within the organization.

According to VP and North American Practice Leader of Digital Advisory Services at Capgemini Consulting, Tony Fross, CDOs need to “have ownership of an enterprise strategy with broad horizontal input.”

How can CDOs affect positive organizational change?

Following are some tips from Bill Schmarzo, Chief Technology Officer of Dell EMC Global Services Big Data Practice:

Identify the organization’s targeted business initiative

The CDO should have a clear and solid understanding of key business initiatives.

Estimate the fiscal value of the business initiative

The CDO should have a general approximation of the objective business initiative’s financial worth. This can help drive conversations between t key business stakeholders and the CDO regarding the estimated financial worth or the business initiative objective.

Identify use cases supporting target business initiative

The CDO needs to identify use cases or collections of decisions that support the targeted business initiative. In order to achieve this, the CDO must interview key business stakeholders to discover key decisions which must be made in order to support the business initiative objective. Subsequently, the CDO should place those decisions into common use cases.

Estimate financial value of use cases

The CDO will estimate the fiscal value of each use case by using a simple polling system involving all business stakeholders.

Identify potential sources of data

The CDO should conduct interviews with business stakeholders to recognize potential sources of data which could be useful in support of the organization’s business initiative.

Estimate financial value of the data

The CDO will combine the fiscal value of each use case with the relative impact of each data source to calculate a general estimate of the worth of each data source across all use cases. Schmarzo advises that CDOs keep this as simple as possible.

FInancial data


What does the future hold for CDOs?

Gartner states that by 2020, possibly 15 percent of all successful CDOs will progress to CEO, COO, CMO or other C-Level roles.

Jamie Popkin, VP and Gartner Fellow, and co-author of the research said, “This [CDO], is a new business function, equal to IT and HR, finance, supply chain and any of the operations departments.”

Popkin explained that the CDOs have a broad scope of responsibilities “because the position cuts across an organization.”

CDOs can help teams change the way they do things and they can show these teams when and where a business model or a process breaks down.

Popkins stated that Gartner researchers have come to the conclusion that organizations are involved in bidding wars for top CDOs who have revealed what they are capable of.

Fred Coon, CEO


Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200