Congratulations – you’ve just been named a company’s first chief data officer (CDO). Perhaps you’re moving into the position from a role such as data scientist, senior business analyst or CIO. Your experience has made you very familiar with the challenges of managing, governing and optimizing data, especially as the volume of information flowing into the enterprise rapidly increases. Without a CDO to define data functions and set data strategy, the business won’t trust the quality of the data it has for self-service and strategic analytics, and so miss opportunities to personalize customer service and increase revenue. There will be no efficient way to trace data lineage to accurately respond to regulatory and compliance audits. And data-driven digital transformation? Forget it.
A New Vantage Partners Big Data Executive Survey 2018 shows that 100% of executives indicate that having a data strategy is a top priority– but close to one-quarter of them said that there was currently no one person within their firm that has responsibility for the data strategy and results. That leaves the door open for you to take on the CDO function at a high level. In fact, nearly 45% of respondents indicated that the primary responsibility of a CDO is to develop the overall data and analytics strategy. The survey also reports that just over a quarter of respondents noted that the primary CDO responsibility is to coordinate data and analytics initiatives across the firm, and 20% replied that it is the responsibility of the CDO to lead all data and analytics initiatives. There may be room to “float” among those categories to help the business mature its data efforts in multiple ways.
The survey’s results also speak to the fact that that there still tends to be a lack of certainty across organizations around the exact duties of the CDO position. You know you’ve been charged with getting the data house in order at some level, but responsibilities can vary according to factors such as whom you report to; whether you sit on the executive committee; if other titles already have primary responsibility for data strategy and results; and whether revenue generation, cost-savings, risk mitigation, digital transformation or something else is the main hoped-for outcome of having someone take on the CDO role.
How to navigate these waters? There’s no one answer given the evolving definitions of what a CDO does, but there are some considerations to keep in mind that can help you—and your team—thrive.
Considerations for Thriving in the CDO Role
The following ideas may help you along your path as your areas of focus become clearer to you:
- Let experience be your guide: Take what you know about the behind-the-scenes struggles – the energy that data managers and analysts have to spend on manually cleaning, mapping and integrating data, for example – and make it a top-agenda item to get a hold on that problem. You need to build a more efficient and smarter way for data managers, business analysts, data scientists and others who directly deal with data to get through these tasks. That’s certainly important to controlling the risks, costs and time requirements that otherwise come with migrating high-volume data across current and from legacy platforms – and deliver better data quality faster. An automated meta-data driven data preparation and management tool can help; the technology can be used to describe the various attributes of data assets for cataloging so that the business can find what they need when they need it. It can also be key to sustaining and improving data usability throughout the lifecycle. Working from this data perspective is an exact fit with coordinating data and analytics initiatives, as the CDO role is sometimes defined. Facilitating the creation of consistent, visible and discoverable data assets across the enterprise feeds the analytics chain (including self-service analytics) that matters to revenue and growth.
- Build a strong connection between data and business value: As you look beyond coordinating data and analytics initiatives to leading them, you’ll want to bring clarity to planning and cultivating the data-to-business relationship. To that end, set up the foundation for implementing solutions to support the ideas above. As a CDO empowered with the leadership function, you can assure that business needs match to metadata set-ups, for one thing. If the organization’s plans are to wring more value out of predictive analytics for big data, glossaries have to be organized to express the terms that fit that mission. Or, as CDO in a highly regulated industry, such as health care or the financial sector, you have to make sure that your business will be able to use metadata to track the lineage of data – its origins and movements from original source to final database – to be able to answer auditors’ questions, whether they’re related to HIPAA or Basel reporting or any of a number of other compliance mandates.
- Be creative, inventive and innovative: Once your company subscribes to the idea that the CDO’s role is to develop the overall data and analytics strategy, consider it an invitation to be an organizational visionary. Look to build cross-functional team collaboration, to define data processes and agree on how these contribute to analytics outcomes—rather than arguing over the meaning of a term like “customer.” Explore how sources of data are expanding – can data generated by IoT sensors or gathered by bots, for example, be used by business teams in conjunction with other data sets as part of deeper analytics efforts? Or think about whether there’s an opportunity to use machine learning and AI to influence how data pouring into data lakes is tagged, cataloged and managed.
There’s more evidence to show that the CDO role is on a growth track: A December 2017 survey conducted by Gartner points out that the average CDO office budget in 2017 was $8 million, up from $6.5 million in 2016. The size of the office of the CDO organization is growing, too: In 2016 CDOs on average had 38 direct and/or indirect full-time employees reporting to them. In 2017 the average grew to 54 direct and indirect employees.
Clearly, company leaders are more conscious than ever of the need to have a CDO on their teams. In your new position, you have a great opportunity to prove to them why they’re right.
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