Success for Chief Data Officers Can Take Many Forms

There is no doubt that CDOs add significant value to a business, but in order for CDOs to be successful and gain appropriate support from the business, it is crucial to have a proactive plan for internal obstacles, map out clear objectives, and be highly adaptable and creative.  

What Chief Data Officers Need to Do to Succeed

by Mario Faria

Does your organization have, or is it considering adding, the role of chief data officer (CDO)?

If so, you’re in good company. The power of data in driving business success today points to a compelling need for a centralized CDO office. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 30% of all organizations will have an appointed CDO. By 2019, 90% of large organizations will have hired a CDO.

The big problem is that in practice, there is little agreement on the degree of authority needed to fulfill the responsibilities expected in this nascent role — or the resources that will be available.

Consider this scenario: A new CDO in her first 90 days on the job is tasked with creating an enterprisewide information governance board. She identifies delegates and invites them for an inaugural meeting, but only half of the members of this new board respond that they will attend.

The CDO in this situation was given responsibilities. But without being invested with formal authority, she can’t help the organization get the maximum value from its data assets.

There are three strategies that CDOs should employ to avoid organizational pitfalls:

Proactively manage internal roadblocks

The economy. Marketplace dynamics. Government regulations. These are all external roadblocks that CDOs encounter every day.

In addition to the lack of authority demonstrated in the above example, CDOs frequently face myriad internal roadblocks. Some of the roadblocks that participants in Gartner’s annual Chief Data Officer Survey (conducted between May and July 2015) said they encounter on the job include:

  • Cultural resistance to change
  • Lack of understanding of the CDO role
  • Lack of stakeholder involvement and support
  • Lack of resources and funding to support the programs
  • Lack of focus in defining the most important initiatives

CDOs need a proactive plan to address these organizational obstacles. The plan starts with recognizing that a hefty component of the CDO role is acting as a change agent.

To begin CDOs must identify the major roadblocks and prioritize them according to business impacts. Next, determine the root causes of these roadblocks and map who are the blockers behind them. The final, critical step is to establish a plan of action to deal with the top-priority roadblocks by focusing on positive business outcomes.

This shouldn’t be a solo effort. It’s important to have a corresponding map of the company’s key influencers; their support and endorsement of the plan is critical. The team should also be kept apprised of the roadblocks that the CDO office faces, and if possible, the plan should be shared with the blocker.

Map objectives to roles

Lack of resources is one of the big challenges that CDOs identified. For example, some of the job roles needed to accomplish the CDO’s responsibilities may not exist in the organization, or they might be currently staffed in another part of the organization. New CDOs need to develop an accurate picture of staffing needs and priorities. Three broad categories of objectives fall under the CDO’s domain:

Objective: Manage information assets

Example roles: Information Governance Leader, Data Sourcing Manager

Objective: Deliver insights to improve business decision making

Example roles: Chief Analytics Officer, BI& Analytics Leader

Objective: Generate incremental business value

Example roles: Algorithm Program Manager, Information Product Manager

Next step: Map primary objectives to top-level functional roles.

Develop virtual organizations

Being adaptive and creative are also key strategic competencies for CDOs. Some functions vital to the success of the CDO office might straddle or reside in other parts of the enterprise. To adapt to this challenge, CDOs can develop virtual organizations, with combinations of direct and indirect reports (such as employees from IT) to augment resources while engaging other parts of the business in enterprise information strategy.

For example, information stewards — senior business users who possess information and analytics acumen — can work with information governance leaders to recommend and enforce user policies.

Change the status quo

Keep in mind that the appointment of a CDO typically comes from a high-level decision. In practice, it can trigger an array of problematic reactions within the organization — including confusion, uncertainty, doubt, resentment and resistance. CDOs need to rise to the challenge of changing the status quo if they expect to lead the business in making data a strategic asset.