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What is a chief data officer? A leader who creates value from all things data

Minda Zetlin | Oct. 26, 2017
A chief data officer oversees a range of data-related functions to ensure your organization is getting the most from what could be its most valuable asset.

Two-thirds or more of the data executives in the Gartner survey said their responsibilities included such items as data quality, data governance, and master data management, but also information strategy, data science, and business analytics. But to truly focus on adding value, chief data officers shouldn’t spread themselves too thin. “Chief data officers who say they’re adding value to their businesses don’t have responsibility for managing data. That stays firmly with the technologists,” White says. “They tend to focus on strategy and prioritization and business cases. They act on behalf of other business leads.”

On the other hand, he says, “Some chief data officers manage the data as well and they tell us they’re not making much progress because they get dragged into the technology conversation.”


Chief data officer vs. chief analytics officer

Even though chief data officer and chief analytics officer are two distinct roles, they should both reside in the same person, argues Guy Gomis, partner at the recruiting company BrainWorks.

“I’m finding the best in class are combining the two,” he says. “Most leaders in analytics want to own the data strategy and how the company treats data and they want to own analytics.” It makes sense if you think about it. Analytics is how data provides value, so that’s an essential function. At the same time, you need a good data strategy and good data management or you won’t get quality data to analyze. Thus, Gomis says, “Best practice is having a chief data strategy and analytics officer who owns both data and analytics and works closely with the CIO.”


To whom should the chief data officer report?

Gomis believes the chief data officer should report to the CEO or COO, and be on a par with the CIO and CMO. But, according to the Gartner survey, that’s not how it is at most companies. Only 40 percent of respondents said they reported to the CEO or COO. Sixteen percent reported to the CIO, 11 percent reported to a senior vice president or VP outside the C-suite. Five percent report to the CFO, and another 5 percent report to the CTO, with the rest spread among various tech titles.

Scriffignano, who himself reports to Dun & Bradstreet’s CEO, says there’s no single answer to the question of where a chief data officer should report. “I’ve seen the role in finance, IT, marketing, R&D, it could even be product development,” he says. “Often it’s a new role, perhaps created by a person who was overwhelmed with the demands of their own role, so you’ll often find it in that part of the organization because that’s who created it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where it should stay.”


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