Last month we posed the question of whether 2016 truly was the year of Customer Experience as so many had predicted. We easily could have posed the same question about the position of Chief Data Officer. Industry journals and blogs consistently discuss the rise of the CDO from digital to data, and for a good reason. Gartner predicts that 90% of “large organizations” will have someone in the CDO role by 2019.

And, in 2015, when Forrester first asked top firms directly if they have a CDO, 45% said that they did – and 16% planned to add one within the next year.

In 2016, David Mathison, CEO of the CDO Club and CDO Summit estimated that there were approximately 2000 CDOs already and there would be 2500 by the end of the year.

Wait a second.  Do those numbers add up? What’s the disconnect?

They say Chief Data Officers have been around for decades. Two of the most respected analyst firms suggest scores of Chief Data Officers already in place at large corporations. So how are there only 2500 CDOs, if Mathison’s prediction came true, working across all industries on a global level? And, why did Gartner’s report also predict that 50% of the CDO roles will ultimately be unsuccessful?

The answer might be one in the same. Who is the CDO? Are we talking about the Chief Data Officer or the Chief Digital Officer? And, does it matter? Is there a difference? The simple answer is that, yes, there is a difference. Whether it matters is a different question. (Think of how many companies you know that have almost meaningless titles like EVP.) More important than the job title is a clear understanding of the roles. Not only the role, but how each may influence your organization and overall strategy.

So, what is the difference?

Jill Dyche, VP of Best Practices at SAS and author of books that have helped shape the way we talk about disciplines like Master Data Management. “Chief Digital Officers push the digital envelope, especially as it relates to customer-facing initiatives. Chief data officers, on the other hand, align strategy to data.”  So, as another writer summed up her perspective “customer champion vs. traffic cop.”

CDO from digital to data discussionResponsibilities of the Chief Data Officer – In Brief

  • Champion and safeguard enterprise data across the organization. As many businesses have learned, and Debra Logan of Gartner points out, “CIOs…do not own the data. When retiring an asset, have you been able to get a straight answer from your business on how long to keep the data? They aren’t making decisions, and you can’t make the decisions about the data.” Someone needs to manage data as the critical asset that it is.
  • Develop and oversee a corporate-wide data governance program. To improve data quality, reduce risk and comply with all relevant regulations, teams must be created to implement data governance policies. In an organization with a Chief Data Officer, there should be no debate about “who owns the data.”
  • Drive information and analytics strategy – from a business perspective. The CIO remains ultimately responsible for information strategy from a technical or systems perspective, but the chief data officer should articulate KPIs and metrics that should be tracked by and reported on by the systems that the organization implements.

chief data officer or chief digital officerResponsibilities of the Chief Digital Officer – In Brief

  • Serve as the executive sponsor for innovation and digital transformation. The “Transformer in Chief,” as McKinsey terms it, is responsible for mapping digital capabilities to strategic priorities, always on the lookout for creating new efficiencies and measuring ROI.
  • Be an evangelist (and realist) regarding new digital processes. Certainly, the Chief Digital Officer should be responsible for managing the digitization of previously manual processes across all departments. However, they should also be knowledgeable and forthright about any potential impact on the company’s workflows and practices due to the new digital strategy.
  • Keep up with the newest technologies and predict shifts in the market. As Dyche pointed out, the CDO is the “customer champion” and will always be looking for new revenue streams that will appeal to customers, new ways to interact with and retain customers and provide the customer with the experience they desire – on any existing or yet to be invented platform.

So, again, does your organization need a CDO?  What about a CDO? And, can one person wear both hats? Indeed, those questions are best answered after careful consideration of your company’s needs and current resources, but the direct answer is that if these responsibilities are currently being addressed by someone in the enterprise, then you may already have a CDO – and if you don’t, you should consider it.