The Arc of the Chief Data Officer: On A Path Similar To CFOs?

Some of the leading Chief Data and Analytics Officers from across the Asia Pacific region, including one of my colleagues, Oracle’s Han Chung Heng, Senior Vice President, Systems, in Europe Middle East Africa, Asia Pacific and Japan, will come together for a Summit (23-24 July 2019) in Singapore.

Together, these executives will be sharing best practice around how they are driving change and shaping their organisations to become analytically mature, business-driven enterprises that outperform their competitors.

This information sharing is key, given how young in fact this role is. In fact, the first chief data officer was Cathryne Clay Doss appointed by US organisation, Capital One, back in 2002.

And while, according to Gartner, the CDO role is now well-entrenched with the global population of chief data officers (CDOs), having grown 100-fold – to 10,000 – over the past decade as enterprises around the world race to exploit their data reserves, to an extent the job is still in its infancy. Only some 7% of survey respondents, for example, are based in Asia-Pacific.

So: Is this just an interesting curiosity, or the start of something bigger?

If LinkedIn's 'Future of Skills 2019' report, released last month [June 2019], plotting the top 10 rising skills in Asia Pacific backed by data mined from member profiles and listings on its platform, it would be safe to say it is the start of something bigger.

This report looked at the skills sets that have experienced exponential growth in the last few years in relation to adoption by professionals and the talent that organisations are vying for in the marketplace.

One of the top two skills sets experiencing growth was in the area of compliance are about ensuring that a company complies with regulatory and legal requirements - with the first being around robotic process automation (RPA).

One of the occupations, which draws on people who have these skills, is the Chief Data Officer. Why? It is due to the rising concerns that exist around data protection.

As the LinkedIn report pointed out, “For any organisation that collects, handles or uses consumer data, demonstrating rigorous compliance with privacy and data protection standards is vital to securing trust and, ultimately, business.”

So does this mean that data protection is their primary concern? To date, there’s been little consistency in CDO responsibilities.


Some CDOs are focused on simply inventorying the organization’s data assets.


Others are more focused on data quality and master data management.


All focus on creating a stronger data culture, but only a few say they’re responsible for producing measurable outcomes or quantifying the value of data assets. A more recent focus is data ethics.

Clearly, it’s a role in transition.

The CFO Trajectory

To better understand the potential future of the CDO role, it’s useful to understand how a similar role, the chief financial officer, evolved over time.


CFOs initially were established as financial gatekeepers. Money is the lifeblood of any organization, so ensuring proper controls was an early priority.


Legislation such as the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act brought a new focus on compliance. Since then, the CFO role shifted toward big-picture strategy, advising, and partnering with the CEO.


Indeed, modern CFOs are often considered “CEOs-in-waiting” because of their wide span of insight, influence, and authority.


Will CDOs evolve on a similar path? The potential is there.


In the digital economy, data is well understood to be the new value creator.


A landmark 2017 Economist report stated that “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.”


Yet 92% of NVP survey respondents pointed to people and process being their biggest inhibitor.


That finding could help make a case for having a CDO, but one could argue that, alternatively, functional executives should be held responsible for delivering increasing value from their respective data domains: customer data, quality data, supply chain data, financial data, and so on.


Even given this decentralized view, there’s still a case to be made for the CDO role.


Individual executives may lack the motivation, skills, and/or resources to create the required data culture needed to master their respective information domains.


Another valid concern is uniform governance of data assets.


A single leadership voice to help IT understand what is needed can also be valuable.


Meanwhile, successful digital transformation requires companies to join together all of their sources of information and extract even deeper value.


Much like modern CFOs integrate all aspects of financial management to create a strategic view of their organization’s future, CDOs have the clear opportunity to integrate all aspects of how their organizations gather, integrate, and create value from data.


Most CEOs can rely on their CFOs to articulate the financial strategy of their organizations.


When CEOs can rely on their CDOs to articulate the organization’s data strategy, it will be a clear sign that the role has reached its potential.

- Chuck Hollis Brand Contributor

Last modified on Monday, 22 July 2019 12:51

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