Chief data officer: The CIO’s new best friend?

Chief data officer: The CIO’s new best friend?

The chief data officer position is growing not only more prevalent, but also more prominent, as part of digital transformation work. Here’s how and why CIOs should cultivate this partnership

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Why CIO and chief data officer should be allies

Ideally, the CDO and CIO boost each other’s performance and profile as collaborators rather than competitors. “Today’s CDO is poised to elevate the role of IT by providing a business perspective, typically responsible for defining the data and analytics strategy for his or her organization,” says Anand of MicroStrategy. “It’s a position that provides the opportunity to drive new value and revenue for an organization while simultaneously delivering cost savings and ensuring accuracy.”

The CIO has distinct responsibilities from the CDO for leading the IT operations and strategy, as well as creating policies and procedures for technology use. The CDO focuses on data quality, governance, and insight delivery says Jake Bittner, CEO of Qlarion.

“Both roles are crucial if companies want to leverage or eliminate their risk around data regulation and stay competitive.”

“While the CDO and CIO roles might be different, they are directed at achieving the same goal: to demonstrate the value of data to the organization by presenting business opportunities which are found from effectively analyzing data,” Wright explains. “Both roles are crucial if companies want to leverage or eliminate their risk around data regulation and stay competitive in their industry.”

As Gartner analysts pointed out in the past, “CIOs support new CDOs who, in turn, ease the CIO’s burden. Each must support the other in delivering business (value) — CIOs through computing infrastructure, and CDOs through information and analytics. Both have data duties, work with peers, and drive business value — and neither can succeed alone.”

CDOs are charged with creating business value using existing assets, channels, and IT. Together, the CDO and CIO can break down siloed departments and data depositories, says Anand. The two can collaborate to select and implement technologies that will make it easier for people to access data, analyze it, and make informed decisions based on the resulting intelligence.

The future of the chief data officer role

“As CDOs focus more on offensive capabilities, they are guaranteeing their own long-term value.”

What began as a stopgap role in the early 2000s, largely created in reaction to regulation and concerns over data quality, has evolved to a much more strategic position. “The way an organization treats data as the core of their business will determine the winners and losers within the market,” says Wright of SAS. “This reality begs for the CDO position – one person who oversees a division that is responsible for the strategic use of data.”

Today’s CDOs are change agents, working with the IT function to address legacy infrastructure, outdated processes, and old ways of thinking. As such, the role is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. “As [CDOs] focus more on offensive capabilities by building out data products that generate value, they are guaranteeing their own long-term value,” says Stijn Christiaens, CTO at Collibra.

The CIO-CDO partnership can be a powerful force for enterprise change. On the other hand, however, those CIOs who do not buddy up with the CDO could be putting themselves and their organizations in danger. “If the CIO is not careful, they risk [becoming] part of the commoditization and ending up as chief infrastructure officers,” warns Christiaens. “They should seek strong partnerships with the CDO and help lead the charge.”

[ Are you leading through change? Get our eBook, The Open Organization Guide to IT Culture Change, featuring advice from 20+ IT practitioners, industry leaders, and technologists.]

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