Wanted – Chief Data Officer

Your organisation's data wants you

My updates here have been notable mostly for their infrequency in recent years. Indeed, in the period since my last substantive piece (Forming an Information Strategy: Part III – Completing the Strategy), I have had time to become a father again; a very welcome event but undeniably one which is not the most conducive to blogging.

Readers who may recall a more prolific period in my writing on this site will also probably remember that I have had a long association with the information-centric seminars run by IRM(UK). They have been kind enough to ask me to present three times at their Data Warehousing / Business Intelligence (DW/BI) events and once at their Master Data Management / Data Governance (MDM/DG) one.

Enterprise Data & BI 2015

In a sign of the times, IRM DW/BI has now morphed into the IRM Enterprise Data / Business Intelligence (ED/BI) seminar. I will be returning this week, not to present, but to form part of a panel discussing “Beyond Big Data, Delivering Real Time Actionable Business Intelligence to Your Organisation”. This panel will be chaired by Mike Simons, associate editor of a number of IDG organs such as CIO.com and ComputerWorldUK.com.

However, plugging this seminar is not my main reason for putting fingertip to keyboard today. The last few years has seen the rise of a new member of the CxO pantheon, the Chief Data Office (or CDO). It is a toss-up whether this role, or that of Data Scientist (“the sexiest job of the 21st century” according to the less sober than usual Harvard Business Review) has had more column inches devoted to it in recent times. Perhaps in reflection of this, IRM have also asked me to attend the co-located CDO Executive Forum this week. While it can be argued that elements of what a CDO does have been done by people with other titles for many years (I have been one of them), the profile of this role is indisputably a new development and one worth commenting on.

In a way the use of “data” in this title is somewhat misleading. In my experience CDO’s don’t focus exclusively on data (the atomic level), but on the process of turning this into information (basic molecules created from atoms), from which can be drawn insight (more complex molecules containing many sub-units) and which – if the process is to have any value at all – has to finally lead to some form of action [1]. Of course part of the idea of Data Scientists is to go straight from data to insight, but this is less straightforward than might be thought and clearly doesn’t obviate the need for a complementary and more structured approach [2].

Further food for thought for me has been some interesting observations on James Taylor’s blog [3] about the relationship between CDOs and Chief Analytics Officers (the latter perhaps echoing my former ideas around the role of Chief Business Intelligence Officer). He covers whether these should be separate roles, or combined into one, drawing the conclusion that it maybe depends on the maturity of an organisation.

Looking around the market, it seems that CDOs are a varied bunch and come from a number of different backgrounds. I began to think about what might be the core requirements for success in such a role. This led into what can be viewed as a rough and ready recruitment advert. I present my initial ideas below and would welcome any suggestions for change or refinement.

Requirements for a CDO:

  1. A desire to do the job full time and not as an add on to existing responsibilities
  2. A background steeped in the journey from data → information → insight → action
  3. A firm grasp of the strategy development process
  4. A thought leader with respect to data and information
  5. Strong leadership credentials
  6. An excellent communicator
  7. Structured approach
  8. Ability to influence as well as set directions
  9. Highly numerate (likely with a post graduate degree in the Physical Sciences or Mathematics) and thus able to commune with analytical staff
  10. Equally a strong understanding of technology and its role in driving success
  11. Experience of implementing Data Governance and improving Data Quality
  12. Experience of delivering and embedding enhanced Information Capabilities

A background in one or more of the following and exposure to / understanding of the majority:

  1. Strategy
  2. Marketing
  3. Commercial
  4. Analytical business disciplines (e.g. Actuarial Science in Insurance, Customer Insight in Retail)
  5. Accounting – not least from a reconciliation point of view
  6. Statistical Analysis
  7. Technology (specifically Information Management)


Of the above, the desire to be a full-time CDO is crucial. The only point in having a CDO is if an organisation regards its data and the information it can generate as strategic assets, which require senior stewardship. If they are such assets, then these areas need the whole attention of an executive who is both accountable and whose has the authority to move things forwards. Simply adding data to the plate of an already busy executive in some other area (the CFO, CMO or CIO for example) is highly unlikely to drive a stepped change in business decision-making.

Of course while the above list is necessary background / expertise for a CDO, ticking these boxes will not in and of itself guarantee success. Instead – at least in my opinion – success is likely to be predicated on some rather less novel approaches to driving business change. It is my aspiration to be a bit more regular in my publications and so I plan to cover some of these (as well as talking more about specifics in the data → information → insight → action journey) in coming weeks and months.


Perhaps equating this to the tertiary structure of macro-molecules might be stretching the point here, but when has that ever stopped me getting the last drop out of an analogy.
I covered some similar ground some time ago in Data – Information – Knowledge – Wisdom.
James Taylor on EDM – Chief Analytics Officer Summit Opening Keynotes.

10 thoughts on “Wanted – Chief Data Officer

  1. […] I should of course mention here that my current role incorporates the word “Analytics” [5], so I may be making a point against myself. But before I start channeling my 2009 article, Business Analytics vs Business Intelligence [6], I’ll perhaps instead move on to the second acronym. How to decode CDO? Well an equally recent translation would be Chief Digital Officer, but you also come across Chief Development Officer and sometimes even Chief Diversity Officer. Our meaning will however be Chief Data Officer. You can read about what I think a CDO does here. […]

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