Chief Data Officers, or CDO for short, are finding a firm foothold in the global business world. In 2014, 25% of Fortune 500 companies had hired a CDO. Research firm, Gartner, predicts that 90% of large companies will have hired a CDO by the end of 2019. This rapid rise reflects the increasing importance for organizations to monitor and understand the large amount of data that relate to their customers, products, citizens and services.
Another CDO, specifically a Chief Digital Officer, has been influential driving business outcomes. While the acronyms seem to be used interchangeably, the general consensus is that the two roles are clearly distinct. Chief Digital Officer looks at how organizations can effectively transform in the digital age while Chief Data Officer is responsible for aligning data with business priorities. Both these positions are relatively new, and share similar goals, but their functions can be quite different.
Instead of being distinct, I would argue that as digitization sweeps across economies, the role of the Chief Data Officer is fast merging with the Chief Digital Officer. Data holds the key that will unlock real business value, but this can only happen when businesses lay down the right digital framework that can extract the most powerful intelligence. In the digital economy, the role of the Chief Data Officer and Chief Digital Officer will converge towards the same end defined by true business innovation.
The confluence of two CDOs
Most executives agree that Chief Data Officers must focus on the business as a priority. The Chief Data Officer is charged with developing strategies driven by the company’s business objectives and work closely with the CIO and executive management to align business and technology issues.
In some companies, the Chief Data Officers already own the charter for finding new revenue models by leveraging data as an asset. They oversee how data is gathered, managed, and monetized. But the role is not limited to only the practical world of cost savings, revenue and finances. The Chief Data Officer is at the center of defining data strategies for connected cars, smart factories, Internet of Things, Big Data, and everything related to digital transformation.
The Chief Digital Officer, on the other hand, helps an organization drive growth by converting traditional analog business to digital. They also oversee operations in the rapidly changing sectors of mobile apps, social media, virtual goods, web-based information management and marketing. In these new digital business models, the requirement to provide instantaneous access to accurate and new types of data become the fundamental differentiator, this new digital channel requires the services of the Chief Data Officer to ensure data governance, protection and life cycle management are all in place.
Creating synergies in the distinctions
Most Chief Digital Officers have their work linked closely to customer-facing initiatives and as a result, the role is understood beyond the realms of the IT circles. Everyone can relate to how the world has rapidly become more digital and the impact of this on their own areas of responsibility. Consequently, ROI discussions around digital transformation, led by the Chief Digital Officer, are easily understood.
Employees may find the role of a Chief Data Officer more abstract, such that there may be confusion about the fit of the Chief Data Officer in a corporate organization chart. Is this a business or IT role? Constellation Research VP and Principal Analyst, Doug Henschen provides a clear description on the role of the Chief Data Officer, “The Chief Data Officer is a business executive, not a technician, programmer, or data scientist. While data scientists typically have backgrounds as mathematicians or statisticians, Chief Data Officers must understand their employer’s industry and market and combine that with a technical understanding of data and its potential for wider use.
As the world becomes more digitized, it is not surprising that roles related to data and digitization continues to proliferate. Both the CDO roles reflect an economy in transit. As organizations find their footing in the new digital world, and as business landscapes continue to be disrupted with technology innovations, the role of an executive in charge of leveraging data for strategic business alignment will also continue to evolve. What is clear is that in the journey to digitally transform, businesses need a leader who can define identify new models for monetization through harnessing data and analytics to reimagine their business.