Build Your Career Path to the Chief Data Officer Role

The growing importance of the chief data officer reflects the central role of information in digital business.

The rise of the chief data officer (CDO) demonstrates the increasing need for overt leadership of data-driven digital business, as well as to champion the value of data assets.

The CDO role is still new in the large majority of companies — more than 80 percent assumed the role in the last two years.

“The concept of considering information an asset is becoming increasingly pervasive,” said Alan Duncan, research director at Gartner. “Despite this, the disciplines required to be effective in managing information as an asset and maximizing the business value from it are not yet widely practiced.”

According to Gartner’s research, the CDO role is still new in the large majority of companies — more than 80 percent assumed the role in the last two years, and 60 percent of current positions were created in 2015.

What does a CDO do?

Whether an aspiring CDO or an executive leader seeking to appoint one, it helps to know what people currently performing this function are responsible for:

  • Assuming executive responsibility and accountability for enterprise information assets
  • Working with board members and other C-level executives to establish vision and create a culture that treats data as a cross-corporate asset
  • Identifying and standardizing the use and governance of information in support of the overall global business strategy
  • Leading the organization to produce data insights that help drive strategic and tactical business opportunity, and championing a data-driven, decision-making culture

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Where do CDOs come from?

CDOs’ common work experiences and prior roles include:

  • A background in analytics: 63 percent of CDOs globally were in a diverse range of data and analytics roles prior to their current appointment.
  • A range of other line-of-business roles such as sales and marketing (16 percent), and finance and operations (10 percent).
  • While a degree of technology awareness is required, the CDO is not a technical role. Only 9 percent had a prior position in a traditional IT department.

How to succeed in the role

There are three main characteristics that will lead to success in the role. CDOs must:

1. Be the emergent leader for data-driven business

While a relatively new role, the increase in the number of appointed CDOs reflects the rising number of organizations that are taking data and analytics aspects seriously and preparing for them. It’s important to adopt responsibility for ensuring information-based business transformation, value creation, operational efficiency and improved risk management.

2. Be business-centric, data-oriented, analytically minded and culturally aware

Successful CDOs will be able to influence the culture and behavior of peers and colleagues, pushing the organization to become more data-driven, information-centric and analytical. As the role matures and demands increase, successful CDOs will recognize the different cultural characteristics needed to highlight the business value of data.

3. Focus on the link between data, analytics, business processes and outcomes

By focusing on these linkages, CDOs will be able to create business relevancy and establish themselves as the catalyst for data-driven business value. There’s a clear opportunity to become the individual within the organization who identifies, articulates and evangelizes the business value of data in support of better business outcomes.

More information is available to Gartner clients in the report: Survey Analysis: The Career Path to the Chief Data Officer Role by Alan Duncan, et al.

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Gartner’s annual predictions disclose the varied importance of data and analytics across an ever-widening range of business and IT initiatives. Data and analytics leaders must consider these strategic planning assumptions for enhancing their vision and plans.

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