Follow Datanami:
June 10, 2021

How to Set Yourself Up for Success as a Chief Data Officer in 2021

Amar Kanagaraj


Many Chief Data Officers (CDOs) have a noticeably short tenure. The role of CDO is full of challenges as they often drive cultural and technical change. Unlike many C-level roles that have been around for a while, CDO is a relatively new position. Hence, many leaders and managers don’t fully grasp the support and resources that CDOs need.

Crucially, the leaders who step into the role of CDO underestimate the hurdles. CDOs are stewards for enterprise-wide data and are responsible for the organization’s data strategy, affecting every part of the company. Here are some essential tips to help you succeed as a CDO, especially if you recently got promoted.

Know Where the Bodies Are Buried

Before you make sweeping changes, you must understand the current data situation. Explore the context: the reasons for existing decisions and the causes of previous failures. Every company is unique, and some constraints are difficult — but not impossible — to overcome. Hence you should fully understand the situation so you can challenge the assumptions.

To get the proper context, you might have to sit with data engineers who have been in the organization longer. First, you must understand the existing data: figure out how they gather, govern, distribute, analyze, and archive data. Next, dig into the reasons behind quirky decisions and failures. Your ability to understand the lay of the land, by and large, will determine your success as a CDO.

(Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

Make Data Governance and Data Protection the Top Priority

COVID-19 has further exposed data governance gaps in today’s businesses. In many companies, the leadership team is completely onboard with better data governance. Changes to data governance might include new data policies and a new company-wide operating model.

With data protection regulations in the mix, you have to work closely with legal as data governance program changes touch many parts of the organization, including external vendor contracts. Getting leadership’s commitment to data governance is necessary to drive adoption across all stakeholders.

Secure C-Suite Support 

One of the big mistakes new CDOs make is seeing the CDO role as a technical function and failing to secure the support of the C-suite. In hard times, when ROI is under the microscope, working towards the right goal is critical.

The CDO needs to secure the necessary support to usher in the right data management and governance changes. How do you know you’ve got the CEO’s support? If your deliverables are either part of or aligned with CEO’s or company’s yearly goals, you have a clear indication that you have leadership support.

Understand Integration and Infrastructure Debts 

A unified view of their data can be a great way to analyze corporate performance, financial planning, market share, and other important business metrics and functions. In most organizations, data sits in multiple silos. Integrating data across various silos requires paying down technology and organizational debt. Balancing the budget between new projects and paying down debt is one of the important challenges for CDOs.

Think About Revenue Soon

In recent years, the role of CDOs has evolved from protecting revenue to generating revenue. Data is seen as a crucial asset. You are expected to find ways to drive revenue. This philosophy needs to be part of every CDO’s workflow and mindset, especially in today’s environment.

(Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Monetization data doesn’t always mean selling data. You have to find creative ways to grow top-line revenue. For example, you could use data to find new market segments, enable new channels, introduce digital products, onboard partners, or build a platform.

Data Security More Than Network Security

In most organizations, over 90% of cybersecurity budgets will be spent on network security and less on data security. Recent large-scale breaches have shown that organizations have had to pay a remarkably high price in the aftermath of data breaches, regardless of sector or industry.

Data security inside an organization requires strong collaboration between you as the CDO and CISO, making sure that data sources inside the organization are entirely secure at an enterprise-grade level.

Recruit Data Evangelists

Successful CDOs facilitate the transformation of an organization into a data-driven organization. They inspire the existing workforce to realize the potential of data and how it can improve their effectiveness and their team’s growth. Securing more grassroots organic support goes a long way to overcoming resistance to change and generating creative ideas to find new ways to improve business.

These are just a few of the challenges that CDOs need to face and conquer in 2020. There are many tactical responsibilities that are crucial in maintaining the current trajectory. These responsibilities can prevent CDOs from taking strategic initiative, if they are not alert and actively combat this. CDOs will only become vital to organizations as time passes, and as the data economy gains momentum.

About the author: Amar Kanagaraj is the founder and CEO of oneDPO, a privacy tech startup that applies AI and privacy engineering to help companies govern and protect data better. He is a successful serial entrepreneur, passionate about building innovative products. Before oneDPO, he was the co-founder of FileCloud, a leading content collaboration solution with more than 3,000 customers. Amar has more than 20 years of experience in building products, marketing, scaling companies, and leading teams. He has an MBA from Carnegie Mellon and MS from Louisiana State University.

Related Items:

The CDO’s Role in Leading Data-Driven Transformation

The Evolving Role of the CDO

CDOs Must Shift to Offense, Survey Finds