What are the Top Three Questions Keeping CDOs Up at Night?

Gartner research recently posted the results of its inaugural survey of chief data officers (CDOs), which revealed that the primary mandate and objective of today’s CDO is to manage, govern and utilize information as an organizational asset. Well, at Talend we see ‘enterprise information’ as more than just ‘an asset’ – we believe it is a company’s most valuable commodity. In keeping with this philosophy, we view the CDO as one of the most important roles in today’s C-suite.

While Gartner indicates that CDO appointments have been accelerating in the last three years, the role is still somewhat nascent within most companies today. Because this role is still emerging, there is a high degree of variability in what CDOs do, to whom they report, and how they are measured, which can be three of the most critical defining aspects of a person’s job. I thought I’d dig a bit deeper into how Gartner’s survey results can help guide CDOs on the steps they need to take in order to make themselves highly-valued members of their organizations.

Download>> Gartner’s Top Data Priorities for Chief Data Officers in 2016

What does CDO even stand for and what do they do?

It may be a newly defined position, but the role of a CDO is a serious job—particularly in today’s data-filled world. It’s no secret that data is growing at an alarming rate. IDC reports that the digital universe is doubling in size every two years. A CDO holds the huge responsibility of spearheading enterprise-wide governance, analytics and utilization of corporate information as an asset, via data processing, analysis, data mining, information trading and other means. This gives them a significant amount of influence over what kinds of information the enterprise selects to capture, retain and devise a way to utilize in their organization. They are in charge of how companies reinvent themselves—in what Gartner would term, ‘the digital transformation’—in order to be data driven. The CDO needs to lead the way in terms of teaching the business how to understand the best ways to use their data and then how to implement the insights from that data at scale—both in terms of keeping pace with the increasing volumes of data as well as how to make use of corporate data lakes enterprise wide. One of the ways in which a CDO can do this is to put data into the hands of EVERY person within the company via self-service, but to do so with the appropriate amount of governance. Thus, the CDO needs to be closely aligned with IT in order to make sure that utilizing all corporate data for the purposes of bettering the business is done with security and governance in mind.

How do you measure the success of a CDO?

The first thing a CDO needs to do is help the company build it’s “vision” for becoming a data driven organization.  Something that looks across all of the company’s data silos.  Something that is aggressive, but achievable.  Once that is established, then the company needs to come up with a series of milestones that each deliver value to the company along the way towards achieving their goal.  CDOs should also consider and create benchmarks and measurements for information-related programs and activities. This means always taking into account the business outcomes they want to achieve as a result of more effectively managing and utilizing data within their organization—i.e. increase customer sales and revenue by x amount. They should then map those objectives to measurable activities that can contribute to success—in this case it might mean increasing the success of marketing campaigns by augmenting email open rates or increasing lead conversions. That way, at the end of the project a CDO can easily prove whether or not they’ve effectively impacted the desired business outcome. Measuring success versus their established milestones, the CDOs ability to lead cross-functionally and achieve identifiable business objectives will be the determinant of their success.

Where does the CDO fit within the corporate reporting structure?

One of the key findings of Gartner’s survey is that there is “a lack of maturity and understanding [among today’s companies] of how to “embrace, support and exploit the CDO role.” Chief Data Officers shouldn’t be mistaken for “lone wolf saviors”, as Gartner describes.  They can’t exactly parachute in like a Navy Seal team and strike at the heart of an organization’s perplexing data-related challenges. As mentioned above, once a CDO has devised the company’s vision and the milestones they will need to hit in order to help the business become data driven, then it will be easier to determine through which chain of command within an organization a CDO should report. Regardless of that reporting structure, they will require the support and collaboration of other C-level executives and extended layers of the organization. Just as importantly as determining where within the organization the CDO sits, the staff and budget that a CDO has at their disposal in order to help drive change will need to be determined by the organization as a whole. Only with this support can they hope to understand the holistic mission of the company and devise a way for the business to use data strategically in order to accomplish transformative goals.

To learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing today’s CDOs, download this free copy of Gartner’s first CDO survey here.

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