3 Top Take-Aways From the Gartner Chief Data Officer Survey

January 29, 2018

Contributor: Christy Pettey

CDOs are accountable and impactful change agents, leading the data-driven transformation of their organizations.

Today’s chief data officers (CDOs) have one of the toughest seats at the executive table. Within this challenging role, they unlock data-driven innovation as well as integrate disparate data and analytics capabilities into a strategic discipline, all while delivering a steady drumbeat of quick-win, high-value projects. A successful CDO requires the skills of a seasoned high-wire performer who is consistently both stable and agile.

"Early CDOs were focused on data governance, data quality and regulatory drivers, but today's data and analytics leaders are becoming impactful change agents who are spearheading data-driven transformation,” says Valerie Logan, research director at Gartner. “It’s not difficult to see how, by 2021, the office of the CDO will be a mission-critical function comparable to IT, business operations, HR and finance in 75% of large enterprises.”

As the role of CDO continues to grow, the third annual Gartner Chief Data Officer Survey found that CDOs are proving to be linchpins of digital business transformation. For the first time, more than half of CDOs now report directly to a top business leader, while respondents reported an average CDO office budget of $8 million in 2017 — a 23% increase from the $6.5 million reported in 2016. Unsurprisingly, budgets are higher for large organizations — 25% of organizations with more than $3 billion in revenue have budgets over $30 million.

“ As data and analytics become pervasive across all aspects of businesses, communities and even our personal lives, the ability to communicate in this language — that is, being data-literate — is the new organizational readiness factor.”

As further evidence of the transformative nature of the CDO, Gartner predicts that by 2021, the CDO role will be the most gender-diverse of all technology-affiliated C-level positions. Of the respondents to the survey who provided their gender, 19% were female, and this proportion is even higher within large organizations — 25% in organizations with worldwide revenue of more than $1 billion. CDOs also form a youthful cohort, with 29% of those surveyed saying they were 40 or younger.

CDOs are switching from defense to offense to lead digital transformation

More than one-third of survey respondents cite increasing revenue as a top three measure of success, illustrating a shift in preference toward value creation over risk mitigation. The survey also looked at how CDOs allocate their time and found that on a mean basis, 45% of the CDO's time is allocated to value creation and/or revenue generation, 28% to cost savings and efficiency, and 27% to risk mitigation.

“This signals a marked shift for CDOs and their organizations, with the increasing recognition that the value of the CDO function lies principally in the support of revenue-generating activities,” says Logan. “Of course, CDO support for cost savings and risk mitigation will continue to be of critical importance, balanced with top-line growth drivers.”

CDOs are responsible for more than “just” data governance

In 2017 the role of the CDO moved way beyond data. According to the survey, responsibilities now include data management, analytics, data science, ethics and digital transformation. Eighty-six percent of respondents ranked "defining data and analytics strategy for the organization" as their top responsibility, up from 64% in 2016. This reflects the need to create or modernize data and analytics strategies within an increasing dependence on data and insights in a digital business context. Seventy-one percent of respondents said that they are acting as thought leaders on emerging digital models, and helping to create the digital business vision for the enterprise.

A greater-than-expected percentage of respondents (36%) also report responsibility for profit and loss (P&L) ownership, reflecting the growing importance and pervasive nature of data and analytics across organizations, and the maturity of the CDO role and function.

CDOs are tackling a wide array of internal challenges

The gamut of internal challenges facing CDOs is evident across the survey findings. The top internal roadblock to the success of the office of the CDO is "culture challenges to accept change" — a top three challenge for 40% of respondents in 2017. A new roadblock, "poor data literacy," debuted as the second biggest challenge (35%), suggesting that a top CDO priority is ensuring commonality of shared language and fluency with data, analytics and business outcomes across a wide range of organizational roles.

“As data and analytics become pervasive across all aspects of businesses, communities and even our personal lives, the ability to communicate in this language — that is, being data-literate — is the new organizational readiness factor,” says Logan.

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