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Gartner: Chief data officer is IT ally, not antagonist

Data and technology are intricately linked, so it’s logical to assume the role of the chief data officer (CDO) should be a function of IT. But, according to Gartner analyst Debra Logan, that assumption is not necessarily correct.

“Information and data was really never ours to manage,” Logan said at the recent Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Summit. “It really belongs in the business, with the business — as does the CDO.”

CIOs may see the need for a data czar and want to appoint one (a move Logan neither encouraged nor discouraged), but enterprises may be better off plucking a CDO from the business rather than from IT — if only to avoid what could become a vicious cycle. “If a CDO is emerging from the IT organization, we may have the same problems we’ve always had,” Logan said. Namely, the business may struggle to adhere to data policies and frameworks designed by an organization that doesn’t own the data.

That’s probably not music to IT’s ears, but drawing a line between data and systems is a good thing for CIOs, Logan said. Leaders of IT have long been frustrated by the lack of progress on data governance and data quality initiatives, and have had “a tough time getting this done because they don’t have the accountability and the authority to do it,” she said.

The role of the CDO is designed to take on tasks like establishing data and information policies for the enterprise. “And, yeah, sometimes that bears on information systems,” Logan said, but CDOs aren’t responsible for pulling the trigger on new technology investments or implementing an enterprise-wide document management system. “That’s still the CIO’s job,” she said.

Plus, at least from what Logan’s observed, CDOs tend to be subject matter experts capable of identifying important information assets that will enable the business to achieve its goals. That’s not quite in the CIOs’ wheelhouse — nor should it be — because, frankly, CIOs are not responsible for creating business strategy, she said.

And CDOs also tend to report to the business, most often the COO, in Logan’s experience. “The message you send when reporting to the line of business is that the data belongs to the business; the data is the responsibility of the business,” she said.

CIOs may hope the role of the CDO is a momentary trend or they may hope they work for a business that won’t need a data chief (Logan said not all businesses will), but it’s a trend that doesn’t appear to be going out of style anytime soon. In fact, if Gartner’s prediction turns out to be correct, IT leaders should prepare for the number of CDOs to double this year — from 200 to 400.

It won’t be an easy transition and “will require CIOs to adjust their job expectations,” Logan said. “But we think once they adjust their expectations, they’re jobs will get better. Finally someone can help [them] track down all of that stuff.”