Is It Time to Hire a Chief Data Officer?: Top Considerations and Questions to Ask

board room

In the current environment, one would be hard-pressed to find an organization that doesn't leverage big data in some capacity. Whether it's analyzing customer behaviors for deeper insights into the client base or gathering information about a product for improvements, big data can offer considerable benefits for companies in every industrial sector.

At the same time, though, big data initiatives require special attention and clear efforts to get projects off the ground and ensure that informational assets are utilized to their fullest. This is where having a dedicated employee to manage such processes becomes valuable. Bringing a voice to big data in the boardroom can have sweeping effects, helping to shine the light on the critical importance and array of advantages that analytics can offer.

Is it time for your company to hire a chief data officer? What role would this individual fill within the company, and what should hiring managers look for in potential candidates? Let's take a look:

The role of CDO

According to Gartner, CDOs will become increasingly popular in the coming years. The purpose of this position is to manage and maintain the company's data strategy in a way that the CIO cannot.

"The CDO is a senior executive who bears responsibility for the firm's enterprise-wide data and information strategy, governance, control, policy development and effective exploitation," Smarter with Gartner contributor Tom McCall wrote. "The CDO's role will combine accountability and responsibility for information protection and privacy, information governance, data quality and data lifecycle management, along with the exploitation of data assets to create business value."

In this way, the CDO role includes a new type of oversight and management that doesn't overlap with the CIO. The CDO represents the individual that helps drive the company's big data strategy, enabling other executives to focus on mission-critical initiatives involving other company assets.

A new seat in the boardroom

An array of businesses across different sectors are beginning to realize the advantages that having a CDO can offer. In fact, Gartner predicted in early 2015 that half of all companies operating in regulated industries would have a CDO in place by 2017. In early 2016, though, Gartner upped this prediction to 90 percent of large enterprises by 2019.

What's more, Forrester researchers found that nearly half - 45 percent - of global organizations already have a CDO on their executive teams, and an additional 16 percent planned to add this position within the next few months.

"Business leaders are starting to grasp the huge potential of digital business, and demanding a better return on their organizations' information assets and use of analytics," said Mario Faria, research vice president at Gartner. "It's a logical step to create an executive position — the CDO — to handle the many opportunities and responsibilities that arise from industrial-scale collection and harnessing of data."

A successful CDO

While the vast majority of larger companies will be looking to put a CDO in place, Gartner did caution that this individual will face considerable challenges, particularly toward the beginning of his or her career. One of the more prominent issues here is the fact that the CDO role is so new, and many candidates won't have had experience in this position before being hired. In this way, there will be a learning curve for both the individual employee and the organization as they work to understand the best ways to derive value from the position.v

What's more, the CDO will also be tasked with establishing the actual data strategy for the company at large. As this approach will be leveraged to guide every data- and analytics-central initiative that the business undertakes, it is important that the strategy the CDO creates offers measurable results

"The CDO's role will raise expectations of better results from an enterprise information management strategy, with stakeholders wanting a clear idea of the exact mechanics of making success a reality," Faria noted.

In addition, the CDO will have to ensure that the strategy created, as well as the initiatives it is applied to, remain within budget while still producing value. Overall, Gartner predicts that around 50 percent of the CDOs put in place in the enterprise sector will be successful in their roles by the end of 2019. With the right expertise and skills, though, this individual can bring return on investment and considerable insights to inform critical business decisions across the organization.

Do you need a CDO?: Questions to ask

While significant benefits are on the table for companies that do put a CDO in place, it's important to ensure that an investment of this kind will prove successful for the business. After all, creating a new executive position requires significant financial, recruitment and managerial efforts.

Does your company need an executive to help better manage its big data strategy?

There are a few questions decision-makers can ask themselves and their current executive team to help determine if adding a CDO would be advantageous for their firm.

These include:

  • How important are big data initiatives to company processes?
  • How well does the enterprise currently manage its big data?
  • Are analytics processes completed smoothly and successfully, or could they benefit from added guidance and oversight?
  • How well is the organization able to apply the insights gleaned from big data analytics currently?
  • Does the company have an existing employee with big data and analytics experience to help drive its initiatives?
  • Does the company have the financial means to add a new member to its executive team?

Overall, it's important to ensure that a CDO will bring value to the business, in terms of the way it uses and applies its data as well as the way it analyzes its available assets. Shawn Banerji, managing director at Russell Reynolds Associates, noted that while this role is gaining popularity, it's important that businesses take their time while making this decision.

"I think the worst thing you can do is go in knee-jerk fashion and create the role just for the sake of creating the role," Banerji told CIO. "More and more organizations are becoming data-driven. I anticipate that the CDO will not only persist but become more prominent."

A CDO's toolkit: Having the right resources in place

Whether your organization has a CDO in place or is looking to hire one, it's essential to have the right tools of the trade available for this employee to leverage. This includes not only the big data itself, but a proper environment in which to store and work with this information.

This is where a partnership with a leading data management provider like Data Realty becomes such a critical piece of the equation. Data Realty can provide an advanced and secure environment for businesses to store, access and analyze their big data. To find out more, contact us today.