What does it take to be a Chief Data Officer?

Guest Blog our consultant managing the role
Author: Guest Blog
Posting date: 11/8/2018 9:01 AM

By Noam Zeigerson

Noam Zeigerson is a Data & Analytics Executive and entrepreneur with over 16 years’ experience delivering Data solutions.


What does the role of the CDO entail and how can we succeed?


Researchers at Gartner estimate that 90 per cent of enterprises will have a ‘Chief Data Officer’ (CDO) in place by the end of 2019. It also predicts that by then only half of CDOs will have been successful. So, what does the role of the CDO entail and how can we succeed?


The rise in the use of data in the enterprise to inform business decisions has led to a recent phenomenon - the Chief Data Officer. Organisations will have a CDO in place to handle the many opportunities and responsibilities that arise from industrial-scale collection and harnessing of data.

Unfortunately, it is rare to be successful, due to a number of challenges. As a new role, the CDO need to be in a position to increase business efficiencies and improve risk management, especially since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in May 2018.

This puts the CDO in a position where business expectations will be high, and we have to make tough and potentially unpopular decisions, because the CDO’s role sits at the crossroads of IT and business. We typically responsible for defining the data and analytics strategy at our organisation. The CDO becomes instrumental in breaking down siloed departments and data repositories, which makes information easier to find and also have ramifications for the IT team.

As Gartner notes, many CDOs have faced resistance, but the successful ones are working closely with their Chief Information Officer (CIO) to lead change. To be a key part of any organisation’s digital transformation, the CDO need a wide range of skills.




The skills required of a Chief Data Officer


The role of the CDO is multifaceted. For this reason, CDOs need to be able to combine skills from the areas of data, IT, and business to be successful.

Data skills: A background in data science is crucial. A passion for statistics and a clear understanding of how to interpret data to glean insights is core to the role of the CDO. The CDO then needs to be able to communicate what those insights mean in a business context and make information easily available to all.

A knowledge of data security is also critical. In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), whose job it is to enforce GDPR in the country, recommends the creation of a Data Protection Officer (DPO) at each organisation. This should fall within the remit of the CDO.

The value of sharing data at a senior level is recognized by UK organisations, by and large. Further down the authority chain the picture is different, with about three-quarters of executive teams and nearly half of front-line employees actually need to have access to detailed data and analytics.

The CDO needs to ensure that those who need data to further inform decision making can do so and are sufficiently trained to gain business insights from that data.

IT skills: Understanding how information flows is an advantage as the CDO is well placed to recommend and implement technology to democratise and operationalise data, as well as improve security. The CDO will need to manage expectations across the enterprise, so appreciating what technology can deliver is the key.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning are going to feature heavily of UK data projects, so many CDOs need to get to grips fast with this technology.

Business skills: Strategic business logic is essential to success as a CDO. If the expectation of the CDO is to influence strategy based on data, then consulting experience will be valuable. Project management skills is at the forefront of the CDO’s day-to-day role. Being able to bring siloed groups together and get them striving for the same common goal is a vital skill for any CDO.

It’s clear that data analytics is only going to be deployed more heavily throughout the enterprise, so the CDO’s role is only going to become more influential and pivotal within organisations as different business units seek to gain insights to improve the business further.



Making a success of the CDO role


Every organisation will have different objectives and expectations of their CDO. Gartner estimates that four in every five (80 per cent) CDOs will have revenue responsibilities, meaning we will be expected to drive new value, generate opportunities, and also deliver cost savings. No pressure! Given those expectations, it’s no wonder that Gartner expects only half of CDOs to succeed.

The core responsibilities of the CDO includes data governance and quality, and regulatory compliance. The CDO must also address the way that technology is deployed to address these issues.

The CDO needs leadership and team building skills, as we are the chief change agent in the organisation for creating a data-driven culture.

This means first-class communications skills will be valuable.The Chief Data Officer is going to be essential in delivering digital transformation. Organisations who create a CDO role must support that individual and make sure that they are integrated across departments, not isolated in a silo. The C-suite must lead from the front on this and, as we saw earlier, the support of the CIO will be critical.

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