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Our new research report charts the rise of the CDO


Boris Huard 6 minute read Chief data officer, Data quality
In my preview blog, I looked ahead to the next phase of our Chief Data Officer (CDO) research program. It’s with pleasure that I can now announce that the full report is now launched.
Made possible through our partners, Spencer Stuart, we gained some fascinating insights from over 40 CDOs and senior business executives from blue chip multinational organisations across Europe, exploring their perspectives on the role and what it is like to own and manage data and drive value from it. The full report is available to download and I’d also like to take this opportunity to share my own perspectives on the findings.

Charting the rise of the CDO

Organisations are increasingly placing even greater emphasis on how important data is. They see its true value and consequently are altering their existing operating models. As momentum grows, the true significance of data is powering a growing need for C-level data professionals to manage the ever increasing volume of data being created - and that person is the CDO.
We carried out an initial phase of research into this emerging role last year. ‘Dawn of the CDO’ established that 92% of the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) that we interviewed were keen to see a CDO role within their organisation. Gartner* also predicts that 25% of organisations will have a CDO by 2017, with that figure rising to 50% in heavily regulated industries such as banking and insurance. With this in mind, it’s no surprise to see real growth in the number of CDO appointments.
With the role clearly gaining momentum, we launched a new research phase. Broadly we discovered that this newly formed ‘data force’ comes from a range of professional backgrounds. It appears that for a CDO to really succeed, a combination of change management and communication skills are essential, coupled with being able to chart a roadmap that drives improvement not just in short term data quality, but also sets out longer-term progression to allow business models to evolve. Emanuela Aureli, Consultant at Spencer Stuart, a leading executive search consulting firm, commented on the role of the CDO, describing it as exciting; “It’s evolving fast and varies according to the nature and requirements of the organisation. In one type of organisation compliance and regulation may lie behind the creation of the role, whereas in another the CDO is there as a response to business model disruption and the need to drive innovation.”

Architecture ownership is being redefined through a shift to cloud 

The fast up-take of cloud computing is driving more rapid standardisation of infrastructure and software packages and as a result information and data is being captured and processed in clear, rigid ways. This alone is an important factor in improving data hygiene, a requirement that is central to data quality strategy. In addition, moving to cloud based solutions prompts a standardisation that takes away the demand for customisation. That means the budget and time that would historically be used for that activity can now be directed to the end result - the data.
Whilst corporate-wide accessibility has been made possible by such developments, CDOs and data leaders are needed to manage major change programs during large technology implementations such as cloud adoption and part of this includes the requirement to structure their organisation appropriately. Organisations have often responded to this by appointing a board level CDO as well as involving data stewards, partners and other data professionals in the overhaul of various communication structures. Our research backs this up and illustrates how senior data leaders are entering at board level and taking control from the top, in fact 70% of them are reporting directly to the CEO. It’s also worth noting that the adoption of cloud computing has prompted a visible shift of the Chief Architect role from the organisation itself to technology vendors.

The role of data in a digital world

Growing consumer expectation and the pace of technological change has lead organisations to accept that they must always be ahead of the game. When data is combined with digital empowerment, organisations are able to stay agile and be more competitive. Data is expanding rapidly and creating a range of opportunities as a result so it’s unsurprising that we found activities around data and digital services converging. Those businesses further on their journey appear to already be making the most of this convergence, seeing it impact directly on how they monetise initiatives, with some even accommodating it by implementing a total overhaul of their business models.

Facing the ethical challenge head on

When we asked most executives how data affects their business model we found that the majority agreed that businesses shouldn’t change the way they manage operational data because it’s too critical and changing it can introduce too much risk. Most also agreed on refining how analytical data is exploited (a main focus area for CDOs) and a deeper examination of the power that social data holds and how best use it. Despite being a rich source of important insight for a customer-focussed business model, social data, and to some extent names data, doesn’t yet seem to be a key element within an organisation’s data strategy.
We found an indisputably high level of integrity amongst those we spoke to who are working with this type of data. They told us that ethics and self-regulation are more of a priority than any potential that monetisation in this area can offer, irrespective of any type of compliance than may be in place. It was particularly interesting to see that in this area some CDOs are choosing to address ethical issues by appointing a Chief Ethical Officer role and setting up bodies such as Consumer Working Groups and Data Ethic Councils.
It’s widely accepted that organisations are maturing quickly in their perception of data as most board members agree on its importance. Now a ‘champion’ is required at board level to make data management into the ‘business as usual’ strategic activity that is demanded by the business. The CDO role is an exciting one which has much potential to shape an organisation’s future. Whilst it’s true that standardisation has been made possible by cloud computing, the vast range of other considerations that are required means that appointing a ‘Data Tsar’ of some sort is critical.
If you’d like read more about these findings and get insights direct from participants including Burberry, SAP, Sony and Bank of England, please download the report. You can also get a flavour of some key findings by taking a look at our Rise of the Data Force Infographic.
*Gartner press release, Gartner Says CIOs and CDOs Must ‘Digitally Remaster’ Their Organisations (2 February 2015),