Do You Need a Chief Data Officer?

May 18, 2021

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

Many organizations lack a chief data officer (CDO), but CDOs generate exceptional value in driving digital transformation and building a data-driven culture.

Less than half of large companies have a chief data officer (CDO), according to the 2021 Gartner CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey. Does your organization need one?

“Even organizations that have a chief data officer often task them primarily to gather, store and secure data,” says Andrew White, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner. “But if you want a data-driven culture where data and analytics drive how you excel at decision making, you need a CDO.” 

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CDOs drive value in digital transformation

Data and analytics are critical to digital business aspirations because decision making lies at the heart of how you and your customers/citizens work out how to engage and delight each other. CDOs who lead or are heavily involved in digital transformation initiatives are exceptional at generating value.

The Gartner 2021 CDO Survey (the sixth such survey) shows that for organizations undertaking digital initiatives, CDOs often lead or are heavily involved in those efforts. Only 2% aren’t involved at all. That finding is common across small, midsize, large and global organizations. 

Where senior D&A leaders are leading or heavily involved, the organization is more likely to outperform on innovation and more likely to be highly effective in producing business value.

3 more scenarios for which you need a CDO

More broadly, data and analytics are essential for a modern enterprise to reengineer its decision-making capability, and an accountable executive is required to make D&A happen. If your organization is in one of the following three situations, for example, you need a senior D&A leader.

  1. Your data is mismanaged, you don’t know what assets you have, or your governance and accountability are uneven. The CDO has executive accountability for enterprise data and analytics assets, and for being intentional about measuring, managing and monetizing their value internally and externally.
  2. You want to create a data-driven culture and make D&A part of everything you do. High performers in the 2021 Gartner CDO Survey promote data sharing, prioritize stakeholder engagement and promote a data-driven decision style with data literacy programs.
  3. Marketing analytics are important to you. Marketing analytics teams reporting into the CDO are more likely to assert that they significantly outperform their peers in terms of revenue and profit, compared to those reporting into the CMO or another marketing leader.

CDOs drive enterprise data literacy

The ability to “speak data” is increasingly important to enterprise success. The CDO is key to building foundational D&A competencies and data literacy within the organization, which in turn generates these key business benefits: 

  • Business leaders understand the value of advanced analytics in driving desired business outcomes.
  • In becoming fluent and articulate in data, business leaders are better positioned to explain to the board how D&A manifests in their organization’s use cases.
  • Data becomes an integral component of discussions and decisions about business opportunities and threats, resulting in more connected, contextual and continuous decisions — which, in turn, are more apt to drive competitive advantage.

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