The Profile of a CDO

Unlike the CIO, whose career progressed through various roles in IT until becoming Vice President or Director, the career path of the CDO is less well-defined. Since the position is relatively new, the prerequisites aren’t clear; in fact, the role itself is not well-defined. So what should companies look for in a CDO? What characteristics are required to be successful? A search of CDO job postings yields only a few descriptions. Below are three examples from various industries.

An example from financial services identifies the need for a business-focused individual and indicates that the role is not about architecting data or designing databases, but rather overseeing these projects from a high level and working with the investment committee to define a data business strategy.

The requirements for the role include:

  • High-level experience leading and defining data strategies for high-performance, computing-driven firms.
  • A firm track record of dealing with the challenges associated with a chief data officer role – data management, data strategy, big data roadmap, business intelligence, data warehouse.
  • Excellent communication skills in explaining data needs, data acquisition requirements and data warehousing to the investment committee, heads of trading and research.
  • The ability to strategize, define and instill data architecture and design, defined data security practices, etc.
  • The appetite to challenge issues and obstacles as they emerge in order to achieve goals.
  • Ability to make concrete decisions and apply technical knowledge.

An example from the insurance industry articulates the need for an individual to engage with business and IT leaders to understand the business needs, critical data elements and data analytics. This individual must actively participate in data-related projects; ensure full understanding of regulatory and compliance requirements and processes; as well as manage budgets, financials, headcount and resources.

The primary purpose of the role is to:

  • Engage business leadership to align regional initiatives with the global roadmap.
  • Provide data owners and data stewards with an enterprise perspective of data characteristics.
  • Be the ambassador for global communications; promote alignment to the global standards beyond individual project delivery.
  • Provide input into communication and implementation of data standards and processes; program tracking with global PMO and reporting; budgeting for data initiatives and communication for data projects.
  • Work with business leaders to understand analytic needs for data.

A media industry example points out that the CDO is a crucial role at the heart of the corporate strategy. The role provides technical and strategic leadership for the data function for the firm with additional accountability to the Chief Data Scientist.

There are four key areas of focus for the role:

  1. Leverage the data and insight generated by the company’s products to drive revenue and identify product opportunities.
  2. Develop and execute the company’s best practice and strategy for data.
  3. Help build a team of data scientists and data engineers to create a culture of data-led decision-making.
  4. Ensure the company is using state-of-the-art technology end to end – from data pipelines to analysis, algorithms and visualization.

The role will entail providing company-wide leadership, collaborating with many key stakeholders around the business and taking guidance and direction from corporate data leadership. The role requires strong technical and business acumen.

From reading these examples, it’s clear that there is a wide disparity in role descriptions across industries and most likely across firms. A common set of responsibilities for a CDO includes:

  • Developing the enterprise data strategy.
  • Developing and maintaining the enterprise data management policies, processes and procedures.
  • Developing and managing the enterprise-wide data governance and data quality programs.
  • Providing leadership to, and collaboration with, business stakeholders and IT on data-related efforts.
  • Functioning as a SME and “ambassador” for data across the enterprise.

All of this supports what we believe is the primary objective of the CDO: to leverage and increase the value of the firm’s data assets.

So what type of person will be successful at meeting these responsibilities? In addition to experience in the above areas, the role requires a person who can think strategically and deliver tactically; a combination of business acumen and technology skills; and someone who is a consensus builder and an evangelist for data. It is truly a new and unique role in the organization.

Contributed by Alan Matsumura, Larry Kolek, Ricardo Vieira, and Kevin Henderson.