You may have heard about chief data officers (CDOs) and likely know that they are connected to information technology (IT) operations and administration. But what, exactly, do these senior corporate executives do, and what skills do they need to succeed?
If you’re interested in the CDO position and the various career paths that it offers, read on for some essential information.
What Is a CDO?
A chief data officer (CDO) is a senior administrator responsible for the overall data management of a specific organization. In the corporate world, CDOs are generally C-suite executives who handle a wide range of data management responsibilities incorporating information strategy and business analytics. In short, an organization’s CDO strives to optimize value generation across all areas of operation by successfully managing the data available to that organization.
Chief Data Officer Job Description
Although the specific job descriptions for CDOs may vary significantly from company to company, the position typically involves employing data strategies to ensure effective data governance, maintain exceptional data quality, and derive maximum value from that data.
In most organizations, the CDO works closely with the chief information officer (CIO). Both C-level executives tend to operate as equal collaborators and report directly to the organization’s chief executive officer (CEO) or another top administrator.
As CDOs endeavor to manage an organization’s data for maximum benefit, they must partner with CIOs to support the efficient collection, storage, and accessibility of that data. Although an organization’s entire information technology (IT) team must cooperate to solve problems and complete daily tasks, most successful organizations provide clearly defined job descriptions for the CDO, CIO, and all other tech leadership positions that support effective data management.
What Does a CDO Do?
Although organizations have been compiling and using data throughout history, the sheer volume of this data skyrocketed with the rapid rise of modern computer technology in the late 1900s and the early 2000s. To successfully protect, analyze, and derive value from this data, organizations have been recruiting senior technology executives in increasing numbers.
As employment opportunities for tech professionals boomed around the turn of the century, the CDO position arose to perform highly specialized data management and oversight with a concentration on identifying and developing strategic advantages. The CDO relieves the CIO of data-oriented responsibilities to promote a far more efficient corporate administrative structure.
Over the years, the role of CDO has evolved from basic data governance and regulatory compliance to focus on using data as a business asset to reduce current operating costs and generate new revenue opportunities. According to the International Society of Chief Data Officers, CDOs “strive to enable their enterprises to derive the maximum value from its information and data assets, to realize the value of data-driven decision-making, and to gain competitive advantage through high-quality information.”
Roles and Responsibilities
As the senior-most executive of an organization in terms of data, the CDO is responsible for spearheading its responsible management and strategic use. The ultimate goals of CDOs revolve around adding value to organizations by eliminating inefficiencies, increasing productivity, optimizing existing revenue streams, creating new revenue streams, developing business opportunities, and improving engagement with consumers, employees, and other critical stakeholders.
Specific duties of the CDO include:
- Overseeing data management and flow
- Leading data governance, strategy, practices, and requirements
- Organizing, storing, accessing, and analyzing operational, production, sales, and strategic data
- Establishing and upholding practices that adhere to data protection and privacy regulations
- Developing and maintaining data repositories
- Ensuring that IT systems meet organizational requirements
- Applying data analytics to business processes and operations
- Spearheading data quality initiatives that promote accuracy
- Improving user access to data while fully protecting user privacy and sensitive information
- Monetizing data collected using advanced technologies
- Supporting the development and market presentation of new products and services
CDOs are expected to perform these and other duties by using a variety of technological tools, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the internet of things (IoT), cloud storage, and advanced business analytics software. CDOs are also tasked with building and supporting a team of data professionals who share a unique understanding of the needs and requirements of the organizations they work for. With this knowledge, they can better apply data analysis to address the organization’s specific concerns, challenges, and opportunities.
To excel in the CDO position, you must have a considerable base of knowledge and experience in both senior business administration and tech-driven data science. Read on for just a few of the specific skills that are the most sought-after in the modern CDO.
- Strategic thinking – All good CDOs will use strategic thinking to identify potential areas of data management improvement. Strategic thinking also enables CDOs to anticipate industry and market challenges and opportunities and rise to meet them.
- Data analytics – Modern digital analytics uses state-of-the-art technology and highly specialized modalities to collect and study data to boost business performance, customer satisfaction, and other factors that affect a company’s success.
- Business intelligence – Business intelligence involves using the insights that data analytics provides to make informed strategic decisions. In addition to refining data management, CDOs can employ business intelligence to optimize other departments, such as sales and marketing.
- Regulatory compliance – No CDO can be successful without a firm understanding of all relevant government, industry, and organizational rules and regulations that govern data management.
- Project management – CDOs are regularly tasked with spearheading large projects, such as creating or optimizing large databases. This means that they must have strong project management skills in areas such as team building, task delegation, scheduling, and budgeting.
- Vendor management – Most tech-based senior managers require both internal and external assistance to meet all organizational wants and needs. Therefore, CDOs must be adept at securing and guiding outside, third-party vendors that provide the hardware, software, support services, and other resources necessary for effective data management.
Organizations That Need Chief Data Officers
Considering the mountain of data that the average global citizen generates, organizations that fail to benefit from this data risk losing in the marketplace to competitors that do. With the right intelligence and analytics tools, they can mine data for business insights to help their organizations chart market dynamics, capitalize on industry opportunities, and exceed consumer expectations.
As reported by the C-suite IT news resource TechTarget, CDOs are playing an increasingly prominent role when it comes to confronting rapidly evolving corporate challenges involving data and its use. In fact, the percentage of mainstream companies adopting the CDO role has increased by more than five times over the past decade.
But what specific types of organizations need a CDO? To answer this question, you need to consider the size of the organization more than the market in which it operates. Tracking the rise of the CDO position during recent years, Harvard Business Review contributors Thomas H. Davenport and Randy Bean report, “Companies across industries including General Motors, Walmart, Chase Bank, Partners Healthcare, and MetLife have CDOs.”
Chief Data Officer Career Path
There is no single, universal, or guaranteed path to becoming a CDO, but many industry-leading corporations seeking to fill C-suite executive positions require candidates to have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from an accredited institution. They are also looking for CDOs with a specific combination of academic and professional experience in business administration and data science. This often includes a master’s degree in a relevant technological field, such as data analytics.
Studies have shown that many CDOs have career histories in marketing and finance in addition to holding various IT-related jobs. Broadly speaking, the fastest path to the CDO office is by assuming management-level, data-centric roles that leverage the power of business intelligence and analytics to add real and considerable organizational value in multiple practical areas.
Earn Your MBA with a Business Analytics Concentration
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) MBA in Business Analytics is a great way to prepare for a career in business data science in general and the chief data officer position specifically. In fact, The UTC Gary W. Rollins College of Business offers a variety of career-focused MBA options that students can pursue online, in-person, or through a combination of the two.
To learn more about the MBA in Business Analytics, contact a skilled and knowledgeable UTC representative today. Tell us about yourself, and we can help guide you toward a senior executive CDO position or any other serious business career goal you might have.