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The Rise of the Chief Data Officer

Published on 05 February 16

In the last couple of years we’ve seen many companies, particularly large processors of data, create the role of a Chief Data Officer. With data being an increasingly important strategic asset and the role of the CIO changing more and more perhaps it was only a matter of time that this role was carved out in recognition of these facts.
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Where the CDO role is placed in the organization structure varies, and rightly so. Some companies have it reporting into the CEO while other have it reporting into the CIO. One might expect that the latter structure may be more appropriate in companies that have historically had very large enterprise IT landscapes and a greater degree of centralization of the management of everything to do with data processing and information management. When the CDO role reports directly into the CEO, it is not so much a reduction of the role of the CIO to one that owns just the applications and infrastructure as it is a reflection of the recognition that data by itself needs a strategic management focus while the CIO looks at IT application and infrastructure health and maintenance.

What are the key responsibilities of the Chief Data Officer? Is the CDO an additional customer for the IT function or is it more of a supplement and partner to the latter? The answer is probably somewhere in between, and it depends on the situation in purview. This can further be clarified by looking at the major areas of CDO responsibility.


The CDO has to define the organization that has the collective responsibility for ownership of all data in the enterprise. This includes responsibilities for its management, integrity, availability, distribution and security. Data stewards may assist the CDO in executing these tasks. Governance also includes the system of policies and processes that are used to manage and control the flow of data into and out of the enterprise.

Data Standards

This responsibility is a supportive subset of the overall governance framework, and includes how data is named and abbreviated, and how it is modelled, used and worked with until it is archived or deleted. Standards cover both the core data as well as the metadata that describes it. This is all done to improve the ease of use of available data, and to support its consistency across the enterprise.

Data Quality and Lifecycle Management

Apart from defining how data is to be processed and used, there is a responsibility for the quality of data, and how that quality is to be achieved and maintained. This requires a perspective across the entire scope of data elements that comprise the enterprise set, and defines a mechanism that ensures that a single version of the truth is maintained until it is replaced by new versions and safely moved out of active usage.

Data Storage and Retention policies

The CDO has to be on top of how data moves across the enterprise, where it is generated, how it comes in, where it builds up into bottlenecks, where it doesn’t come in fast enough, and so on. This helps take decisions about optimising the data throughput, with temporary and permanent data stores, and the sizing of these stores, and archival and deletion strategies. This is one of the areas in which the CDO works closely with the CIO to not only provide requirements but also refine strategies so that overall objectives of data availability and storage optimization are achieved within budget.

IT Performance and Effectiveness Analytics

While the CIO ensures that the landscape of enterprise applications and hardware are all managed well, the CDO would be responsible for ensuring that information needs are met within budget and in a timely manner. This includes having a system to identify metrics to measure the achievement of these parameters and putting in place the analytics to produce these metrics.

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