The Need for a Chief Data Officer

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A few years back, a Chief Data Officer (CDO) was a (relatively) rare creature within an organization. Although the volume of data held by most organizations has grown exponentially over past decades, many a CEO decided that a motley collection of data scientists and managers was sufficient to wrangle it, without the need to appoint an executive.

That’s changing, however. Earlier this year, research firm Gartner predicted that 90 percent of large companies would hire a CDO by 2019. Any organization that wrestles with a large amount of data potentially needs to consider hiring one.

“It’s a logical step to create an executive position—the CDO—to handle the many opportunities and responsibilities that arise from industrial-scale collection and harnessing of data,” Mario Faria, a research vice president at Gartner, wrote in a statement accompanying that prediction.

Gartner also suggested that new CDOs should spend their time educating senior leadership about the importance of data and analytics; establish best practices for information governance; design metrics for data collection and analysis; and figure out how data can enhance a business strategy. That means a typical CDO must not only have a firm grasp of the technologies involved in data storage and analytics, but also possess the “soft skills” necessary to effectively communicate needs to people throughout a particular organization.

Any new CDO will also need to spend time on tasks that Gartner doesn’t mention. Chief among those is informing stakeholders (politely) that the CDO is not the same as a CIO, IT manager, or other role focused on ensuring a company’s tech stack stays operational and up-to-date. Nor is the Chief Data Officer the same as the Chief Digital Officer; the latter must evolve a company’s technology and digital footprint, not concentrate on how to better use (and monetize) internal data.

For those who pursue a CDO position, the payoff is potentially lucrative: according to Dice’s data, a CDO’s median salary currently stands at $175,000 per year, and some can max out at $250,000—and that’s before you start talking equity and other perks.

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One Response to “The Need for a Chief Data Officer”

April 09, 2016 at 1:11 am, JRStern said:

The concept of a CDO is good, though I suppose it would best report to the CIO. However just like other specialties to have a Chief Data Officer you need some Senior Data Officers and Junior Data Officers. That is, a wide variety of projects needs someone to focus on the data domain, separate from the database domain, separate from the application domain, overlapping perhaps the business domain. But it also requires some technical smarts, more than the average business analyst is going to bring to the job. Just some thoughts.

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