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Does your company need a chief data officer?

Katherine Noyes | Feb. 17, 2016
'Data are your customers, are your business, are you,' one executive says.

Kolker and his team encourage data-based decision-making and provide executives and staff with the data and metrics they need to make effective changes. Data and analytics, as a complement to experience, expertise, intuition and "gut feeling," can "better guide your decisions and prioritize your actions," Kolker said.

Kolker believes every organization needs a chief data officer.

"Data are your customers, are your business, are you," he said. "Customers come first, then you need to re-align your business with customers' needs and aspirations."

In many ways the CDO is the modern equivalent of the vice president of data management role that was common a decade ago, said Shawn Banerji, managing director at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

"Back then, it was focused strictly on capturing data, and less about making it actionable," he said.

Today, the CDO typically reports to the CIO or chief marketing officer, Banerji added. Those in the job often have backgrounds in data science, including statistical analysis and mathematics.

Companies large and small will increasingly appoint chief data officers, Gartner's Faria expects. Most are driven by one of three motivations:

1. The company needs to comply with regulations or manage risk better;

2. It's hoping its data assets can lead to greater efficiency;

3. It's looking to data analytics for extra value or extra revenue.

"Most progressive, forward-thinking companies on some level view themselves as data companies," Banerji said. "Most of them are taking steps toward addressing that need, whether through the creation of a distinct role or by dispersing its responsibilities across existing roles."

CDOs are currently more common in business-to-consumer companies, but there are plenty in B2B firms as well, he added.

So how should a company decide if it needs a CDO?

"First and foremost, sit down and go through an exercise of internal reflection and customer analysis -- you want to understand what are the desired commercial outcomes you're striving for," Banerji said.

Next, think about data's role in achieving those goals. If data is central to the company's priorities, a CDO makes sense, he said. Otherwise, it may require more thought.

"I think the worst thing you can do is go out in knee-jerk fashion and create the role just for the sake of creating the role," he said.

Looking ahead, prospects for the CDO's continuing importance appear to be strong.

"More and more organizations are becoming more data-driven," Banerji said. "I anticipate that the CDO will not only persist but become more prominent."

Gartner's Faria agrees, but he expects that over time, the CDO will focus less on data per se and more on the algorithms used to get value out of it.

"Having data without algorithms is like having a car without gas," Faria said. "Combining them is what lets you get ahead."


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