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It Turns Out That Most CDOs Actually Have 7 Key Roles

chief data officers

Since 2002, when the first Chief Data Officer was appointed at Capital One, power dynamics have defined the environment in the top echelons of many organizations. With little consensus regarding the duties of the Chief Data Officer (CDO), the role has continued to acquire responsibilities in tandem with the steady evolution of data analytics and business intelligence.

CDOs can not create business value from enterprise data by going it alone. Lack of support among C-suite executives is slowing down progress, stymying efforts to create business value from quality data analytics. Teamwork is necessary, and clarifying the CDO’s key responsibilities must be a top priority for the whole team.

CDOs need full C-suite support to empower their organizations with agile data-driven strategies that score big wins for the entire enterprise. To better understand this need, let’s explore the seven types of roles recently identified as key demands on the often overworked Chief Data Officer.

“Clarity on who is supposed to do what is a necessity. We expect that the number of CDO jobs will continue to grow in organizations, but CDOs will only succeed if their roles are clearly specified.” — Harvard Business Review

The 7 Key Roles of the Chief Data Officer (CDO)

A 2021 NewVantage Survey of Fortune 1000 executives regarding their Chief Data Officer’s duties identifies seven key roles currently demanded of CDOs. Each of the seven, according to Harvard Business Review (HBR), is “distinct enough that it would be difficult or impossible for one person to perform all of them well.” The seven key types of roles identified include:

1. Chief Data and Analytics Officer

Responsibilities include overseeing data management, data science, analytics, and sometimes the enterprises’ artificial intelligence (AI) functions as well.

2. Data Entrepreneur

The focus of this aspect of a CDO’s role is on monetizing data by capturing and selling it, often for targeted marketing purposes.

3. Data Developer

CDOs are often called upon to oversee data-intensive application development, such as process automation software and/or infrastructural capabilities, along with the creation of data lakes or enterprise data warehouses.

4. Data Defender

CDO duties also include protecting data from fraudsters and cyber attacks, as well as overseeing data safety policy compliance.

5. Data Architect

This aspect focuses on ensuring quality data aggregation, cleansing, formatting, and enterprise-wide availability. It may also include modernizing enterprise data warehouses to data lakes, often utilizing AI-based data integration processes.

6. Data Governor

Another key role requires the CDO to establish data governance programs, tapping mid-level and senior-level managers to oversee the data domains pertaining to their business processes, effectively aligning data programs to business goals and strategies.

7. Data Ethicist

Because the CDO typically oversees data management, there is a growing concern for the ethical collection, sharing, and safeguarding of data. Data privacy and ethics focus on such responsibilities as control, security, transparency, accountability, and integrity of enterprise data.

This list of responsibilities is nothing to sneeze at. As HBR points out, this is “too many roles for one CDO.”

With so many C-suite execs focusing on information—the Chief Information Officer, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Data Officer, etc.—these duties should represent team responsibilities and be assigned as such.

HBR adds, “clarity on who is supposed to do what is a necessity. We expect that the number of CDO jobs will continue to grow in organizations, but CDOs will only succeed if their roles are clearly specified.”

“The chief information officer is responsible for the bucket. They’re responsible for making sure that the bucket is the right size, that there are no holes in it, that it’s safe, and that it’s in the right place. The Chief Data Officer is responsible for the fluid that goes in the bucket, comes out of the bucket, that it goes to the right place, that it’s the right quality and the right fluid to start with. Neither the bucket nor the water work without each other.” — Caroline Carruthers, former CDO of Network Rail and co-author of “The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook”

Clarifying the CDO’s Role

Caroline Carruthers, a former CDO of Network Rail and co-author of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, provides the following helpful clarification. “The Chief Data Officer is the senior person, with a business focus, who understands the strategy and direction of the business, but their focus is on how to underpin that with data.”

Carruthers also offers the excellent analogy of a bucket and water to define the difference between the CIO and CDO. “The chief information officer is responsible for the bucket,” she explains. “They’re responsible for making sure that the bucket is the right size, that there are no holes in it, that it’s safe, and that it’s in the right place.”

Caroline continues, “The Chief Data Officer is responsible for the fluid that goes in the bucket, comes out of the bucket, that it goes to the right place, that it’s the right quality and the right fluid to start with. Neither the bucket nor the water work without each other.”

The NewVantage 2021 Big Data and AI Executive Survey offers a testament to the drive and determination of CDOs actively promoting the creation of business value from well-managed data and quality data analytics. With a bid for patience, the survey authors note that success takes time to unfold while building a data culture and becoming a data-driven organization.

Investments in data literacy, data governance, and awareness-building programs focusing on the positive impact and substantial business value of an organization’s data are recommended steps for continuing in the right direction.

If you’re a CDO that needs more support in your role, the Collectiv team is here to help.

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