What a Chief Data Officer should be – part I


In an age where the role of a Chief Data Officer (CDO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) are used interchangeably, it is easy to get them confused. In my personal experience in the Business Intelligence (BI) space, I have learnt to ‘accept’ the confusion. Though, I say ‘accept’ here lightly, because the hype and confusion to differentiate between these two roles (and trends in general) never ends.

There is, however, one common business misconception on what differentiates these two roles that I do feel requires some clarity. That being, many organisations say that they don’t see any point in hiring a CDO, because it’s believed to be a technical role and that for business purposes it is always better to hire a CIO – which is not true. In fact, a CDO is the executive in the organisations responsible for marketing the value of the data to the business. This person manages the data, understands every data attribute in the business, where it comes from, what it should look like and where it is or can be used – aimed at improving proficiencies.

If you would like to review more of my thoughts on what differentiates these two roles, please refer to my previous blog post about the thin line between the CIO and the CDO. Though, for the purpose of this blog post I wanted to share the sole purpose of the CDO, as understanding this role may have a significant impact on the company’s data, intelligence and insights.

Below I’ve therefore outlined four things a CDO should always be, within any organisation:

1.   A visionary

The role of the CDO has only emerged quite recently, and as data become recognised as a crucial source of intelligence. As such, the expectation here is fairly new, but also quite high, with very little general understanding on how D&A works across the business. Despite this, however, a CDO worth their salt must be able to translate the business big picture and objectives into an implementable strategy that outlines all data management activities. They must be a data agent in data management, governance and quality and all the data activities that the organisations wants rollout.

2.   Champion data governance

This is where the real work starts. As most organisation’s will have high expectations for the CDO to be ‘all-things-data’ to its operations, in most cases the CDO will also have final responsibility to manage the organisation’s data asset across all business lines and corporate functions. This will include having to check the current data the organisation generates, if it is quality data, and if it’s on the maturity level. In line with this role, the CDO will also be responsible for developing and implement data policies, procedures, roles and responsibilities that explain the rules of engagement, decision rights, and the accountabilities for the effective management that will govern the business’ information assets.

3.   Master BI

This is where the role shows its true purpose by bringing concrete business value, and building data-driven cultures. It’s important to note, however, that truly mastering BI does not simply mean the CDO purchases the most effective BI tool for the business; rather – and over-and-above sourcing the right BI tool(s) for the job – this includes the CDO taking ownership for checking the structure of the data without getting caught in the midst of doing ‘technical’ tasks instead of ‘data’ or ‘information’ related tasks.

4.   Able to bridge between unstructured and Big Data

This means the CDO will tap into and analyse unstructured data such as social media, emails, medical records, pictures, videos and sensor – and make sense of it by determining its format, security, rights and quality. Then advise the business on which unstructured data should and shouldn’t be captured, in order for the organisation to depict whether or not they need new storage for the data, or if they should change how their product looks, for example.

Concluding remarks

Taking the above into account, a CDO is in fact not a technical function. Yet, I still find CDOs and CIOs in some organisations doing technical things, such as looking after product licenses, vendor relationships, infrastructure, application development, etc. Regrettably, when a CDO is kept occupied with ‘technical’ and not ‘information’ applications this can lead to interruptions in their priorities to the business, and then result in the business not seeing the value of data because the role is not aligned appropriately.

My suggestion therefore is to get organised. Get the CDO doing the above to ensure that you see the value of data and are gaining the competitive advantage. It’s about getting organised so that the ‘D’ in CDO means something to the business and the people who invested in it.

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