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The value of the CDO

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Chief Data Officer (or CDO) is a term that cropped up during the early 2000s, and two things became apparent to me. First was that many organisations found themselves caught in the ‘hype’ of having a CDO and second, that far too many organisations appointed a CDO without a clearly defined data analytics strategy.

We know the hype around a CDO occurred during the time when organisations (especially big brands) were having their ‘Aha! moments’ about data; realising that data was important and needed to be managed. And, as no big organisation wanted to be seen as lagging behind, soon enough, many were jumping onto the ‘I am hiring or searching for a CDO’ bandwagon. And of course, this was compounded by a lack of understanding the potential strategic value of data or what this could really bring to the business operations. Collectively, this all led to a popular misconception that the role of the Chief Information Officer and a CDO are one-and-the-same. However, if you read my previous blog post on What a Chief Data Officer should be, and if an organisation wants to see the value of data, to truly enable digital transformation and build a data-driven culture – then we have to ask, is the CIO and CDO really interchangeable? Firstly, a CDO is not the person responsible for looking after systems and data. They are not the IT champions of all systems and Business Intelligence (BI) initiatives. Rather, they are the decision-makers and digital leaders who blend vision and execution. They look after insight, analytics and information – and articulate this from a business perspective, aimed at unlocking opportunities. They know every data attribute of the organisation, including where the data comes from, what it should look like once analysed and where/how it can be used. Then this becomes a benefit for the organisation and depending on what the data strategy and goals are, the CDO would able to – however not be limited to – engage with staff on new data findings and what the data means, come up with tactical ways to improve a product and possibly attract new business opportunities. Further to the CDO’s abilities; they are also able to translate the data and business strategy effectively to stakeholders and C-suite level personnel, giving an indication of where the organisation can take the data journey, and what the data team can action. The CDO is able to ‘paint the big picture’ of where the organisation can improve using the data and where their strengths lie. Conversations and messaging of this kind from the CDO can open up opportunities that were never there before. And, based on goals and feedback from the C-suite, the CDO can then compile a plan on how to link everything together, depending on what the business and data strategy and goals are. However, I must stress though that for organisations to see the value of the role, they must not treat this role like any other ‘IT’ role. Selecting the right candidate, for the right purpose will give any organisation a champion and evangelist that understands the data as assets to an organisation – and how best to manage and leverage data assets appropriately. They need to be able to be granted the chance to show their technical know-how about the data and soft skills necessary to be able to translate the ‘geek-speak’ into valuable insights and the impact on business strategy. Considering your data analytics journey, you may have stumbled across similar beliefs or misconceptions on the role of the CDO. Though I hope this blog has provided you with some clarity.

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