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Is there a right or wrong time to hire a CDO?

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Having used my past two blog articles to address what a Chief Data Officer (CDO) should be and the value a CDO should offer an organisation, you may now very well be wondering if it is worth your while to hire a CDO. Having a better understanding of what a CDO brings to an organisation and how their overall role can add value to its data strategy can certainly lead you to think that there is merit in investing in this role. And while I believe this to be undoubtedly true, there is also value in understanding if your organisation is ready for a CDO. With that said, there are a few elements I believe any organisation must have very clear vision on and cement within their business before investing in the CDO position. This is to ensure that the CDO does indeed make a difference, adds value and executes their main functions of certifying data quality and governance – all those good things my previous post touched on.

A functioning data foundation

Most organisations today deal with different forms of data – in one way or another. Data exchange between organisations, in my experience, is also on the increase as we see more data coming into the business from varying sources. If an organisation has not put a strategy in place, via their IT department (driven by the CIO), to start to build a data foundation, it is not ready to hire a CDO. This same notion is true for an organisation that may have a data foundation in place, assuming it is running smoothly, however the foundation has not received attention in years. While certainly a CDO can be invested in to assist an organisation in getting the data foundation right, it would mean that the organisation will need to alter its expectations of the value the CDO will bring to the organisation, at least in the short-term. The latter may result in a CDO coming in and being pressurised to invest in technologies to produce results from data, but he/she will be doing it on a foundation that needs updating. Before an organisation can progress its data strategy through hiring a CDO, it must make sure the data foundation is solid.

Governance is a top priority

Legislations like the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPI) pending enactment in South Africa and the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU (which comes into effect on 25 May), as well as similar regulations being rolled out elsewhere, now mean that many organisations are mandated to place a focus on data governance strategies for the protection of data. An organisation not placing data governance at the core of their data strategies will soon realise that the CDO role within their organisation will be limited. As custodians of data, CDOs inherently look at data governance as a strategic key performance indicator (KPI) they must achieve.

Concluding remarks

While in many cases an organisation will likely be ready to invest in the CDO function, reviewing these areas thoroughly will aid the process of investing in this role and allow the organisation to set realistic expectations as well as establish both short- and long-term goals for CDO success. And for those organisations who asses these areas and determine that they are not yet ready, the right steps can then be initiated towards investment in the CDO role.

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