Chief Data Officer: A Role Still Lacking Definition

The chief data officer function remains ill-defined and unsettled.


Firms continue to struggle with the expectations and responsibilities of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) or Chief Data & Analytics Officer (CDAO) role, with companies still uncertain who the CDO should report to, whether the job should come with revenue responsibility, and whether the CDO should be an external recruit or a company insider.

NewVantage Partners’ 8th annual survey on big data and artificial intelligence topics found that 72% of the CDOs, CIOs, CEOs, and CMOs surveyed said the CDO function remains unsettled — only 30% described it as “successful and established.”

Given the answers to other questions in the survey of Fortune 1000 executives, that’s not surprising. For example, only 12% of executives said their CDO has assumed revenue responsibility. That suggests “data monetization” remains elusive, said NewVantage. In addition, less than half (40%) of CDOs had primary responsibility for data, down from 48% last year. Indeed, at one-quarter of organizations, there is no single point of data accountability.

On a positive note, however, over half of respondents said their CDO’s role has shifted to become more “offensive” (revenue generation) than “defensive” (regulatory and compliance).

The uncertainty over the CDO role was also evident in the struggles companies are having establishing clear and achievable expectations for the job. Nearly half (48%) of respondents now believe the CDO needs to be a "change agent" that comes from outside the organization, up from 38% last year. Only one-quarter of respondents thought the CDO should be a veteran insider, down from 32% in the previous survey.

At the same time, and perhaps related, NewVantage said it has witnessed a high rate of turnover among CDOs, particularly at leading banks. Indeed, 23% of organizations in the survey (from numerous industries) said they are struggling with that problem.

The rate of turnover could get worse before it gets better. Only about half (57%) of respondents said their firms had appointed a CDO, down from 68% in 2019. The other side of the coin? About 10% of firms maintain the view that the CDO role is an interim one and that it should be phased out over time.

The evolution of the CDO role continues as organizations strive to become more data-driven. That too is going slowly, according to the NewVantage survey. Only 38% of respondents said they have created a data-driven organization. Even fewer — 27% — reported success at building a data culture within their firms. People and process challenges are the biggest roadblocks, respondents indicated.

Seventy-two companies participated in the survey.

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