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Gartner: Chief data officer role continues to grow

Chief data officers are gaining organizational clout, according to a new report from Gartner. Researchers at the consultancy found that companies are establishing a data office, what they refer to as “the office of the CDO,” complete with staffing, budget and specific responsibilities.

“This is a new business function, equal to IT and HR, finance, supply chain and any of the operations departments,” said Jamie Popkin, a Gartner analyst and co-author of the new research, which is based on interviews and online surveys with 180 chief data or analytics officers or others who hold a high-level data and analytics position.

The consultancy’s first survey of chief data officers was qualitative; the current report, Survey Analysis: The Second Gartner CDO Survey – The State of the Office of the CDO, is a quantitative study, with researchers looking to consider the merits of eight CDO hypotheses, including the organizational structure of the role itself.

“What we’re seeing is that, increasingly, there is an office of the chief data officer run by a chief data officer,” Popkin said. “And the chief data officer generally is having a very broad scope of responsibilities.” Because the position cuts across an organization, Gartner predicts CDOs will use the position to propel themselves into another C-level role in just three years.

The office of the CDO

Chief data officers are often brought in as governance gurus. The position was born out of the financial industry, in which companies have heavy compliance and regulatory requirements, Popkin said. Since its emergence in finance, companies such as those dealing with sensitive data or are transactional-heavy have also taken to the chief data officer role.

Researchers found that more than half of the respondents (54%) have a fully or partially implemented office of the CDO; another 20% are exploring or planning to implement one within the next year. The office of the CDO is still a relatively small one — no more than 24 people, according to 61% of respondents. But, as the report states, “with people and programs [come] budget.”

The average budget globally for the office of the CDO is $6.5 million, with North American companies budgeting more than twice the amount of their European counterparts.

The CDO’s unique perspective

Ensuring data quality, information strategy and master data management were and are primary responsibilities for CDOs, according to the research. But the potential impact a CDO has on the organization extends beyond keeping corporate data in order. Popkin said CDOs are uniquely positioned to be change agents and, as such, break out of the chief data officer role and into another influential C-level position.

Because they’re tasked with looking across the organization, CDOs understand how things operate, where there is resistance to change and why there’s resistance to change, and they can help groups change the way they do things, according to Popkin. They can shine a light on when and where a process or business model breaks down.

The experience they gain from helping transform an organization sets them up for future C-level positions such as a chief marketing officer, chief operations officer and even a chief executive officer. Indeed, Popkin and his co-researchers predict 15% of CDOs will begin to parlay their expertise into another C-level role by 2020. “I think someone who has that ability to work across all of the administrative functions is actually demonstrating the personal and professional maturity you might expect in a CEO,” Popkin said.

He pointed to the turnover they’re already seeing among the chief data officer role — not due to failure but due to demand — as a piece of evidence behind their thinking. “We think there are already bidding wars going on for top CDOs who have demonstrated their capability,” he said.

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