Advice from the C-suite’s newest members: Chief Data Officers


Last week, I attended Innovation Enterprise’s Chief Data Officer (CDO) Summit in San Francisco. A leading group of CDOs joined with aspiring CDOs and industry experts for two days of presentations, workshops, and networking.

It was fascinating to hear CDOs share their insights on how they are moving beyond why organizations need a point of accountability for enterprise data management to how to get started and what projects to initiate for greatest impact. As one CDO put it, making the most of your organization’s data is about “speed and agility at the right moment… so get out of your chair!”

It also requires fostering trust and building strong relationships with the contributors and consumers of your data. It is not enough to just be receptive to these requests; effective CDOs initiate partnerships. As one CDO stated, “For a CDO to create change requires reaching out to fellow CXOs who want to transform. Don’t wait to be asked.”

CDO event photoCortnie Abercrombie, IBM’s big data and analytics emerging roles leader, asked in her keynote, “how many of you aspire to be a CDO?” A majority of hands shot up signaling an emphatic YES.

Aspiring CDOs in attendance came from diverse professions: analytics officers, architects, data scientists, information officers, heads of data management, and VPs of strategy, product marketing, and data integration. They were from industries as far ranging as financial services, government, healthcare, and communications.

What’s unique about CDOs’ role in driving transformative change for their organization? As one CDO stated, “Data can give us answers to questions we never thought to ask.” CDOs frame the very questions that need to be asked and – when positioned with the tools and resources to execute – can find the answers that drive true transformation.

CDOs need to have a firm grasp of the business, and as one CDO stated, “articulate business needs in terms of capabilities, and in turn communicate this to the IT department.” It is not enough to possess deep technical knowledge. An effective CDO must demonstrate a thorough understanding of the business and how data and analytics strategies can create business value.

When positioned effectively as a C-suite peer, CDOs can provide “less perspiration” for the CFO and CIO to meet regulatory demands, and “more inspiration” for the CMO to gain a deeper understanding of customers. CDOs’ guidance included start with small wins, generate traction across the organization, and build a data and analytics strategy that has impact now and into the future.

Today’s community of CDOs is small compared to other C-suite roles, yet growing rapidly. With their passion to solve problems and frame challenges in new ways, I found the CDOs I talked with to be exceptionally curious, innovative in their solutions, and persistent about building strong relationships across constituent groups. I saw an active group of data and analytics leaders hungry for use cases, thought leadership, and open dialogue. By the end of the summit, I had done too much talking myself and temporarily lost my voice. I walked out thinking, what an exciting time to be working in data and analytics!

What challenges and successes are you experiencing as your organization considers the role of the Chief Data Officer and tackles big data and analytics?

Log in and leave a comment, I look forward to hearing from you!

2 responses to Advice from the C-suite’s newest members: Chief Data Officers

  1. A.Asare says:

    Interesting that you mentioned the CDO’s in attendance included people from banking, and gov’t industries. The cost of a breach (whether security or data) has been found to be higher in those sectors compared to others and the level of trust that is lost with its customers is usually hard to regain. As the role of CDO continues to rise in visibility, I wonder how it would impact other burgeoning roles such as Chief Digital Officer and Chief Data Scientist. Were there any discussions at the conference about other growing technology related C-leader roles?


    • Yes, we have certainly seen financial services and government at the forefront of making use of their data as an asset – certainly triggered in part by regulatory requirements. What we’re seeing now is organizations in other industries jumping on board as well – healthcare is one example I’ve been watching closely. There are many important contenders for the C-Suite. One distinguishing characteristic of the Chief Data Officer is the ability to bring deep technical expertise paired with business know how. To understand how to guide a Chief Marketing Officer to ask questions about his or her customers that haven’t been asked before – and then to be able to suggest a technical solution to facilitate that understanding. Great insights and questions, thanks for the comment!


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