Can an organisation be data-centric without a CDO?


Regular readers of my blog will no doubt know that due to my immersion in the data-information-insights spectrum, I’ve been very interested in data centricity and the role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) for some time. On reading a recent industry piece about the role of the CDO, a question that came to my mind is this: can an organisation be truly data-centric without having an official CDO role in place?

The industry article I’m referring to is titled “Key roles and responsibilities of the modern chief data officer”, which appeared on TechTarget. It is a valuable read that provides some solid points and insights. So, I’m going to attempt to answer my own question by looking at the identified roles and responsibilities and relate to past and present engagements that I have been involved with, to see if those can be achieved by other roles, without any loss of data-centricity.

Data Governance

The article states “The CDO traditionally has been the “king of data” in an organization. They set data strategy, drive the framework development, control policies and help employees understand data usage.” In today’s modern organisations, this focus resonates well with the CDO. Though, based on my own experiences, in some of my previous consulting roles, I have drawn up data and information strategies for clients, once as part of a data governance forum. I would therefore make the point that data and information strategies have existed long before the CDO role was imagined and even formalised. Likewise, areas such as regulatory compliance and data quality management can be handled by a data governance officer – in fact, that is how it is done at my current engagement.


While the CDO most certainly does play a role in data life cycle management and data operations, in many organisations I have seen this also managed by data governance leads, data governance councils and by more data-focussed Chief Information Officers (CIOs). In my mind there is a big distinction between the IT manager type CIO which focusses on networks, hardware capacity, connectivity, processing power, etc. (I prefer to call it a CTO) versus the “real” CIO with emphasis on Information, who focusses on how data, analytics, insights and intelligence can best be leveraged to serve the business.

Data management and analytics

The article highlights: “CDOs are responsible for managing the organization’s data and analytics operations – including the architecture, user requirements, software development, report development and AI and machine learning integration.”

In principle, I do agree with this, and that is primarily – in my opinion – why the CDO or Chief Analytics Officer (CAO) role was invented – to elevate these aspects to the C-level. However, in practice, I have seen strong BI and insights leaders and analytics team leaders achieve the same results without the official CDO role in place. Moreso, I have seen switched on CIOs drive this agenda and establish analytics capabilities which highly affected the use and uptake of analytics-driven decision-making in the organisation.


The article emphasises that the CDO should foster a culture of innovation and I 100% agree with this statement. In fact, the CDO role itself is a bit of organisational innovation, in order to bring attention to the role of insights and innovation to the organisation’s analytical maturity. But again, I’ve seen analytics teams, BI team leaders, research groups, even data evaluation teams, as well as switched-on CIOs drive amazing insights-related innovations too. If we look back a bit, advanced analytics, prediction models, AI and machine learning were already used and applied in very innovative ways without any formal CDOs in place.

Value creation

In this section, the article talks about turning data into value. At one stage, more than a decade ago, I was doing some research into the value of information and got drowned in some very complex mathematics and statistical equations on how to gauge and report the value of data and information in monetary terms. Likewise, organisations have been doing ROI calculations for data warehousing, BI and analytics projects for years – some successful and some of course miserable failures. Those concepts have been around for ages, and of course, the CDO again can raise the importance of it at the C-level. Though, in my experience those aspects have been kicked around at the C-level for ages and I would go as far as to suggest that there are very few organisations where the ROI of BI and analytics have not been tabled.

The article continues by discussing the important organisational cultural aspects, which is key to having a successful CDO role, as well as a positive increase in data centricity. Here, a very interesting statement in the article for me is: “The majority of CDOs don’t make it to a fifth year at their organization” and “It’s difficult because fixing tech debt and installing a program to show business value usually can take longer than five years.” These aspects are so true and so important. Creating a new job role isn’t going to wipe out, in some cases, decades of tech debt that exists and lift up data management practices to an acceptable level, especially if it clashes with the organisation’s culture and if they’re not prepared to make that sufficient investment and put focus on the issues at hand. In closing, my point is that data centricity can be increased significantly, and the use and value of data can be elevated without having to create a specific role or job title. For me, the crux of it lies in two aspects: the organisation must be ready and willing to take it on – from the top, and you need the right people with the right approaches and mindsets driving and implementing it, regardless of from which role name they do it.

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