The rising role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO)

Home Data Analysis The rising role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO)

One of the relatively newer positions within an organisation’s C-level executive positions, Chief Data Officer (not Chief Digital Officer), is responsible for anything to do with how data is used, utilised, and governed across an organisation. It’s a significant mark that businesses and organisations are starting to truly understand the need for digital transformation. Furthermore, the Chief Data Officer role has become more in demand as companies are now bouncing back from the pandemic and starting to analyse how can they stay more competitive in the ever-changing digital market.

The importance of the CDO position is expanding beyond liberating data sources and complying with various government privacy regulations and data protection. In each organisation’s structure, the definition and responsibilities of a CDO and chief analytics officer (CAO) can overlap. As one of the main tasks is to derive maximum value form the data available to the enterprise, a CDO can work very closely with the chief marketing officer. By doing so, the organisation can use the data to significantly improve customer journey and interactions, and also support customer experience, and ideally drive sales.

CDO The new role
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CDOs: Then and Now

As long as they’ve existed, organisations have been always been gathering data. However, the exponential growth of data happened with the rise of computer systems in the second half of the 20th century. So did the opportunities to analyse data and derive value from it.

In the beginning, data analysis and data management were handled within the IT department, as part of overseeing data processing programs within the company. Later in 2002, the bank CapitalOne was the first to ever employ a CDO – Cathryne Clay Doss. Financial institutions in general were the first organisations to appoint CDOs due to federal legislation and strict protocols for Data Governance. Nowadays according to a PwC 2021 study, insurance and banking are still the industries most likely to hire a CDO.

The CDO role evolved even further due to the pressure of  compliance regulation for other industries following  the great recession in 2007. Back then the focus of the position was to reduce the enterprises compliance burden by creating data governance policies across the organisation. After that, the CDO position has shifted direction to helping organisations handle and understand big data. Ideally, CDO’s job would include the incorporation of big data as a business asset, which can be monetised, by identifying revenue opportunities and reducing operating costs.

Key responsibilities

Due to the vas digital transformation, data management in organisations is now more important than ever. The responsibilities of a CDO include close intercommunication between almost every aspect of an enterprise, including customers, employees, and third-party stakeholders. A CDO should keep his focus on a long list of tasks, one of which are: 

  • data management and data flow by designing, developing and maintaining data warehouses and other repositories;
  • promoting data decentralisation;
  • organising enterprise-crucial strategic  and operational data;
  • supporting cooperation between the development and marketing of new products and services;
  • monetising data acquired from various sources by using advanced technologies;
  • making sure that BI systems are following the business requirements;
  • improving and establishing mechanisms for data trustworthiness and usage for an accurate business outcome;
  • using insights from data analytics effectively into business daily processes;
  • establishing data governance strategies, practices, and requirements; 

The Value a CDO brings

1. Create data-driven strategies and culture

The estimation of data created daily by our society is at about 2.5 quintillion (million trillion) bytes worldwide and continue to grow. BI and analytic tools can be used to mine structured and unstructured data to find key insights and patters for organisation’s businesses and market dynamics.

One key area CDOs are focusing on is recognising these patterns in the context of the business strategy and making sure that the entire organisation is data-driven.

A CDO helps the entire organisation to speak the data language and also:

  • understand how to use data
  • How to create projects with a data-driven mentality
  • how to use data-derived insights to better understand opportunities

2. Establish data security and privacy policies

A CDO should also focus on being aware of all data-centric laws in their geographic region. This includes knowing how to manage data breaches, and establishing data security inside and outside of your organisation. This becomes even more crucial as nowadays many employees need data access for their daily responsibilities.


3. Improving data governance

Governing data includes avoiding data breaches by ensuring that everyone who can access information is authorised. A CDO will have to put measures to protect stored data and data that is being transmitted. The person in this position will have to drive data security awareness across the organisation by outlining and enforcing rules, rights, and accountabilities. 

Furthermore, a key aspect of data governance is data decentralisation. It’s common to see organisations have separate divisions of technical resources that are in charge of using and deciphering data. This isolated approach is preventing the entire organisation to become more data-driven.


The main difference between a CDO and a chief analytics officer (CAO) is between managing data by the CDO and leading data analytics by the CAO. Even though, the positions may look interconnected, their functions are different. 

In retrospect, the CDO in an enterprise context is an older position, which existed prior to the coming of the chief analytics officer. Companies are currently concentrating on replacing purely data-driven strategies to AI-driven strategies and analytics, where the focus on not only on data management but also on data analysis. As the functions may overlap, many companies in the past combined those two roles. 

In an enterprise, the expected responsibility of a CDO is to have a deep understanding of the business management and to find solutions that improve processes, impacting the company’s outcome and revenues. In comparison to the CAO, who extracts insights from data, CDO have to concentrate on deriving the maximum value from data.

The future of the CDO role

Data complexity has grown at an exponential scale and complexity since 2005. At the same time, numerous opportunities to exploit data, as well as dangers and risks to data privacy and security, have emerged. The complexity of the topics is very challenging and it makes it even more necessary for companies to bring in a CDO, as well as makes that person’s job exciting. Even though the role is very high in demand, it is also a hard role to fill and keep. It’s estimated that the average tenure of a CDO is only two and a half years. 

Incorporating cutting-edge technology, such as machine learning, IoT, AI, and increasingly sophisticated forms of automation will be only part of the major trends for the CDO’s future role and responsibilities. The role is also gaining importance in a  variety of industry sectors, such as education, healthcare, and the private sector.

One of the biggest current challenges of the role is the response to  global pandemic situations, such as the COVID-19.  During the past two years, global business was changed, supply chains were shooked, and new business and markets were created, which radically changed the nature of business itself.

Furthermore, a great amount of companies is still offering a home office or a hybrid model of work, which will create challenges on how to protect data, when employees are outside the office. On the other hand, compliance with privacy laws such as the European Union’s GDPR and California’s CCPA will also be key responsibilities for CDOs to handle.

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