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What is a Chief Data Officer?

Chief Data Officer Chief Data Officer
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The Chief Data Officer is a relatively new addition to the technology C-suite. What are their roles and responsibilities?

Who is the Chief Data Officer?

The Chief Data Officer, CDO, is an executive responsible for the policy, governance, strategy and activation of an organization’s data. As data has become almost the currency with which organisations trade, from its collection, storage, interpretation and more, the Chief Data Officer role has been created in the last two decades to oversee this specifically, working closely with a Chief Information Officer, CIO, Chief Technology Officer, CTO, and Chief Information Security Officer, CISO, especially. Not to be confused with another CDO, the Chief Digital Officer, data executives have touch-points across the business, as widespread as the data over which they are in charge.


HotTopics Cheat Sheet: Chief Data Officer

  • The Chief Data Officer is a C-suite executive responsible for an organisations’ data policies, strategies and activation.
  • The role of the Chief Data Officer was created to directly oversee the successful implementation of the wealth of data that new tools, services and touch-points now provide businesses. 
  • Chief Data Officers must be technically-savvy and business-orientated, and, of course, extremely data-literate.


The Chief Data Officer remit

Data, and the correct interpretation of data, fuels innovation in business automation, productivity and experience. The motivation to hire an executive with the sole responsibility of these critical features has been quite recent, however. Just over a fifth of the top 2,500 publicly traded companies worldwide has a Chief Data Officer; nearly half of those were appointed in 2019. 

The reason for this logarithmic increase is due to the logarithmic increase in data’s complexity. 

Advancements in business intelligence tools and services can provide information on employees, customers and clients the likes that businesses even a decade ago wouldn’t have believed. That intelligence however requires huge amounts of data, data that is well ordered and structured, with the right protocols in place to adhere to increasingly complex, strict and fragmented government regulations, and the right talent in place to activate these investments. For some businesses this mix of requirements now go beyond the scope of a CIO or CTO. 

A Chief Data Officer therefore takes on this responsibility on a daily basis, reporting directly to either of these roles. In more data-oriented structures, they may even report directly to the CEO. Regardless of reporting structure, for a Chief Data Officer and their policies to work well, they must have buy-in and trust from the CEO as data is expansive, requiring much investment, continually. 


Further roles and responsibilities

The Chief Data Officer specifically oversees a range of data-related functions, including data management, data quality and data strategy. The interpretation of analytics is also a vital component of the role: data analytics, business intelligence and insights reporting will be key within reports put forward to the CEO and Board as part of a business’ growth targets.

It is a complementary position to other technology executive positions—which some in the industry have argued against. 

Responsibilities between the CIO, CTO and Chief Data Officer, only blend where business strategy requires. In practice, however, the core IT roles of CIOs and CTOs focus more on the business’ architecture, technology products and services, and frameworks that support the business. Chief Data Officers however focus on the quality of the data that supports and powers those features. Such is the importance of the quality of data to the success of one’s technology investments, for example, that the role of the Chief Data Officer has been created.

It also points to the future of business overall. 

With improvements to machine learning techniques and promising case study AI material—and even leaps in quantum computing—the Chief Data Officer will likely be repositioned to contend with these new emerging technologies, working closely with legal, regulatory and security directors to ensure the business remains competitive as well as within the law.

Job descriptions shows key area of responsibilities such as: evangelising and communicating a data vision is a critical part of growth strategy; creating strategic data access policies; leading the design of analytics infrastructure; developing and executing a central data strategy to drive revenue; overseeing data governance, data investment and partnerships; and strategising with C-suite peers.


Further reading

The Chief Data Officer is one of the more recent examples of how innovation is changing the structure of the C-suite. Data is a vital tool, metric, currency and intelligence that any competitive business is looking to supercharge—the Chief Data Officer’s responsibility is to ensure this continued success.

The world is also continually evolving—and fast. Critical information and constant learning helps the Chief Data Officer keep track of trends and insights in a world of real-time information. One of the surest ways to remain abreast of new developments, and share learnings, is to build up a strong network of peers as a support network. 

HotTopics’ technology leader community boasts thousands of technology leaders and practitioners from around the world where they meet virtually and in-person at our many formats of events in a given year, such as The Studio, to share their best practice thought leadership, learn from one another, and widen their networks.