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What Exactly Does a Chief Data Officer Do?

Since the early 2000s, the position of Chief Data Officer (CDO) has grown significantly in popularity, with a recent survey by NewVantage Partners showing more than 62 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have appointed someone to the position.

Generally speaking, a chief data officer is responsible for a variety of data-associated business functions that can include data management, supporting data quality and information strategy. They may also be accountable for analytics and business intelligence functions. Some analytics-related responsibilities may fall to a chief analytics officer, but this title is largely considered similar with chief data officer.

The chief data officer position is available across a broad swath of industries, including in financial services, media, retail education, healthcare and government.

Responsibilities of the Position

Considered a senior executive, chief data officers are accountable for the use and governance of data within a company. They are keenly interested in the strategy and business focus of the company, but their main focus is on the way to support the organization through data.

According to the average job descriptions for the role, crucial areas of responsibility include working to develop a vision for data usage, composing data access policies, establishing a core data strategy, and data governance.

Even though some chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) may see a chief data officer as encroaching on their territory, there are distinct boundaries. CTOs and CIOs are typically responsible for the IT infrastructure of a company, while a chief data officer oversees data-specific areas, including areas associated with information quality, governance, management, strategy, science and analytics.

What to Look for In a Chief Data Officer

The position of chief data officer is still relatively new, and as such, defining success in the role is a bit difficult. Some chief data officers have come from marketing backgrounds, and some from business administration who have never worked in data, hired based on the thinking that business leadership skills, not technical skills, are the key to success.

According to the NewVantage Partners’ survey, 34 percent of respondents said an effective chief data officer should act as a change agent who uses data to bring fresh insights. However, 32 percent of respondents said the opposite: An effective chief data officer must reinforce and refine, rather than revolutionize.

Survey respondents were also divided on the ideal chief data officer’s background, with 23 percent saying an effective chief data officer should have a technical background and 11 percent saying the job demands someone from a business executive background who has successfully driven positive financial outcomes.

Companies do generally agree that a highly motivated, experienced leader with a proven track record of working with numbers should succeed in the job.

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