Understanding the role of the CDO


Given the growing adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), and companies across industry sectors wanting to become truly data-driven, having a Chief Data Officer (CDO) becomes non-negotiable. However, not every organisation truly understands what this role encompasses.

Even though more than a third of businesses are aware of the importance of data, the research also shows that only 16% of them can be considered data-driven. The study done defines this as a company that has data completely integrated into its processes and where data informs business strategy and operations.

Moreover, when a company has a data-driven culture in place, technical and business teams collaborate. An article on Fast Company by Megan Dixon,  titled ‘How to build a data-driven culture among non-tech employees’, highlights that: ‘business decision-makers never move forward without data. They know how to access and use data themselves but rely on their technical counterparts to set measurement strategy and drive experimentation.’

I believe that this behaviour should be driven by leadership. If employees see the C-suite use data to aid in their decision-making processes or try to understand how to overcome unique business challenges, then they are likely to use data as well. Additionally, the leadership must encourage all employees to include data wherever it makes sense to do so, for example, in their proposals, plans, and recommendations.

But this is just one piece of the broader data-driven culture. The other is the introduction of the CDO.

Defining the role

While the CDO is not a new role, with many believing the position began gaining momentum around 2008, the lack of standardised responsibilities has seen the position having a bit of an identity crisis on what it actually entails. At its most basic, the CDO must operate at an executive level and sit on the board.

According to an article on CIO, an essential part of the CDOs role is to break down silos and change the practice of data hoarding in business units. Beyond that, the position also requires an understanding of how best to meet the various data protection and privacy requirements of the geography in which the business has operations. Gartner puts it simply – a CDO helps manage data as a corporate asset. It states that the CDO ‘plays more of a risk, compliance, policy management, and business role. It serves to drive information and analytics strategy, serving a business purpose. CIOs should be involved in designing the role, which may report to them or function in a parallel position reporting to the COO or CFO. In essence, the CDO serves as the glue between the data strategy and the metrics.’

Being data responsible

I also believe that CDOs must help ensure that the company’s data is accurate and complete. The adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ applies. This is especially significant at a time when AI is becoming more commonly used across organisational teams.

With more decisions being made using data and insights, if the information is incomplete or inaccurate, then the resultant actions can significantly compromise the success of any project or strategy.

An AWS report states that 44% of CDOs believe success is about achieving business objectives as opposed to delivering technical accomplishments. It has also found that finding the right use cases for AI has become a critical concern for the modern CDO.

Most recently, Gartner says that 61% of companies are rethinking their data strategies because of the disruptive force of AI. This means CDOs must expand their influence inside a company to address this topic. If this is not done as a priority, the risk to successful strategies based on data will be high.

Technology versus data

Unfortunately, many companies still confuse being technology-driven as a step in the data journey. And yet, this is not necessarily the case. While digital transformation is important, the focus must be more on assessing the data at hand, analysing its accuracy, and then integrating it effectively within the business.

Through this, the CDO plays an important role. They must bridge the gap between business and technology to inject data into all facets of operations.

Next time, I will examine how the CDO can go about breaking down siloes and providing a few tips on the approaches that should be followed.

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