Chief Data Officer: Blossoming Executive or ‘Unsettled Role’?

If data is the new oil as some say[1], someone needs to lead the management of that oil. This, at many organizations, falls on the shoulders of the chief data officer (CDO), or what some organizations label as the chief data and chief analytics officer (CDO/CDAO).

It’s not quite a brand new role. Capital One had a chief data officer[2] in 2002. But it’s one that’s seen great pivots and heightened importance in organizations in recent years, according to Jitesh Ghai, senior vice president and general manager of data management for Redwood City, Calif.-based Informatica[3], a cloud data management provider.

One of the biggest pivots? Going from defense (compliance, security) to offense (innovation). A report by NewVantage Partners[4] earlier this year confirms the CDO role originated between 2009 to 2012, notably in banks due to regulatory reporting demands. But now, more than half of firms (55%) report that the CDO/CDAO has shifted to a more offensive and innovative function. Over the last several years, the strategic importance and relevance of data within an enterprise is more important than ever before, said Ghai.

“You have periodicals like The Economist with a front page cover of data is the new oil[5], referencing data as an innovation platform to help organizations not just ensure regulatory compliance, not just ensure operational efficiencies, but also build out new products and services and also engage with customers more effectively,” he said. “And as a result, the remit of the chief data officer has expanded. The role of the chief data officer is very much a business function. What we see as a best practice is that data is associated with the top priorities within a business.”

What Is a Chief Data Officer?

Organizations likely have different imperatives for their data leaders. Are chief data officers responsible for employee, business-infrastructure or customer data? Ghai said it depends on the business priorities, adding the chief data officer is pulled in “many different directions,” something that an Informatica-IDC study[6] last month confirmed. 

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