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September 2, 2013

The Chief Data Officer’s Time Has Come

Alex Woodie

Data is the lifeblood of business. Every day, companies of all stripes depend on it being there, in an accurate and usable form, to drive everything from the servicing of customers and the processing of transactions to the creation of new business strategies. Considering its essential nature, it’s no wonder that forward-thinking organizations are increasingly hiring high-level people–chief data officers–to look after it and formulate profitable new ways to use it.

The title of chief data officer (CDO) is not common today. Chances are good that your organization doesn’t have one. The jobsite doesn’t list any open CDO jobs. There were no gigs for chief data officers listed on my local Craigslist, nor at, the Federal Government’s official jobs website.

Nevertheless, the CDO role appears to be catching, in both private and public spheres, according to unofficial tallies and anecdotal evidence. Earlier this month, the marketing communications company Ogilvy & Mather hired its first CDO. Before that, Capital One and Yahoo! were two of the first companies to hire CDOs. Citigroup has one. So does the New York Federal Reserve bank, as well as the cities of San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York. Despite the lack of CDO jobs at the Federal Government’s official jobs website, two federal agencies–the Federal Communications Commission and the US Army–employ CDOs.

So what is a CDO, and what does she do? According to Business Today, CDOs are responsible for the control and governance of data, as well as the formation of new business strategies around data. That means CDOs must have technological acumen as well as business smarts.

Forrester’s Gene Leganza thinks it’s mostly a good idea, but expressed some reservations about it just the same. On the one hand, the CDO’s job makes sense, considering the surge of data that organizations are grabbling with, and the increased capability to make sense of data.

On the other hand, Leganza has questions. He casts off the argument that CIOs and CTOs ought to be caring for the data as weak, but clearly there is some question about how the presence of a CDO affects organizational structure. “Specifically, what would be the charter of this new role (and the organizational unit that would report to it), where would it report, and what roles would report into it? Leganza asks.

As data rises in importance, the servers, storage arrays, and networks that process, store, and move the data become a little less strategic. As this occurs, the CIO role becomes less about how information technology can differentiate the company from others, and more about how the IT infrastructure can support the company’s data strategy.

Related items:

Data Science Back to School 

CFOs Stepping Up in Analytics Adoption 

The Transformational Role of the CIO in the New Era of Analytics