The role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) is growing, both in terms of available positions and in the amount of influence they have within most organizations. In fact, Gartner’s recent CDO survey found that CDOs typically report to the CEO, CIO, and COO (in that order) with the largest percentage by far reporting into the CEO.

In an interview with InformationWeek’s Jessica Davis, Debra Logan, distinguished vice president at Gartner, expanded upon the survey’s findings and provided some tips for CDOs to maximize the value they deliver to organizations. She underscored that the role is well established. When Gartner first began tracking Chief Digital Officers in 2012 there were only about 100 of them, compared to the 10,000 that exist today.

Common Pitfalls

This does not mean it’s all smooth sailing from here, however. As Davis points out, “There are people who are succeeding and people who are failing.” A few examples of the latter category include:

  • Investing in the wrong technology: Some executives invest in expensive software packages that are the wrong fit for the projects at hand, and then lack the budget to allocate to the right technology.
  • Too closely aligned with IT: It’s important that IT and the CDO be in sync, but Logan cautioned against the office of the CDO “becoming another IT organization,” as “those are the people who fail the hardest.”
  • Inexperience: Many CDOs who are new to the role may need some time to get up to speed and determine how to prioritize projects, but this inexperience can be a significant impediment to the organization’s digital success.

Latest Best Practices

Logan offered some best practices for CDOs to avoid these and other missteps, including:

  • Focus on the data: Rather than focusing on the technology, she recommends prioritizing the data and what can be accomplished through mining it. As she put it, “Those that do a mix of strategic and tactical projects will be the most successful.”
  • Train your people: Part of shifting the focus to data means training employees to become power users so that they can do more with the data on their own, and also help create a more empowered, data-driven environment throughout the CDO office.
  • Measure the right things: It can be easy to create KPIs for every initiative, but Logan recommends honing in on a few key metrics that are most relevant to the business.

One of the biggest barriers to success for CDOs is, as Davis writes, “The same old culture change issue that IT organizations have been encountering since the beginning of time.” While we’ve made huge strides in making data analytics more accessible to a variety of user groups, people still struggle to understand how data works and what is—and is not—possible from digital projects.

But if the progress CDOs have made in less than a decade of being tracked by Gartner is any indication, the cultural change challenge will not be an issue for long. 

To dig deeper, check out this MIT Technology Review Insights Research on how leading CDOs deliver top and bottom line results.

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