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The Varying Role of the CDxO

While the role of Chief Data Officer (CDO) is becoming commonplace in large corporations, the responsibilities of the role vary greatly. In fact, the variation in job expectation is substantial enough to delineate several distinct CDO personas into CDxOs. The role of the Chief Data Officer appears to be at an inflection point as more organizations increase their analytic maturity and must realize value from creating data products that can be leveraged within embedded analytics.

Using one of the many data value chain diagrams available, we can consider the dimensions of breadth, depth and context to illustrate some of the differences. Understanding these differences can help shape an organizational team that maintains effectiveness.


One of the responsibilities most common for CDOs is developing the strategy and direction that spans across the data value chain. I call this role the CDsO or the Chief Data strategy Officer. Generally, these CDsOs work through influence and do not have accountability for leading the projects to implement the strategy. This role is often seen in organizations early in their analytics journey. While it spans across the entire value chain, it is usually focused on policy and roadmap development, not execution.

There are also a number of CDOs who have accountability for all of the activities across the value chain, but only as it applies to data used for analytics. These CDaOs or Chief Data FOR analytics Officer should not be confused with the Chief Data AND Analytics Officer. The CDaO generally has influence over making data available to analytics teams, that is created in operational and transactional systems, often times through an enterprise data governance council. IT typically works closely with these CDaOs in their role as the data ecosystem translators for the analytics need state, so IT can execute technology changes to deliver the appropriate access.

The breadth of the Chief Data AND Analytics Officer usually has a similar focus on managing analytic data, but also has responsibility for applying analytics to that data, as well. As analytic capabilities mature and become more integrated into business processes, the lines between operational and analytic data blur, expanding the breadth of the CDaOs responsibilities.


Underneath each of these activities is the people, process and technology required to execute the work. Very few CDOs have responsibility that spans all three, especially for ALL people involved in each activity across the enterprise. And this is understandable, given the span of control this would require in large organizations. The process for managing data across the chain is contained within the policies created by the CDO. Most CDOs, regardless of their other responsibilities, maintain responsibility for creating strategy, standards and policies. What varies significantly is their authority to enforce them. Even in highly regulated industries, many do not have sufficient authority to ensure policies are implemented, introducing significant risk to their ability to succeed.

Finally, a number of Chief Data Officers are focused on the technology required to move, store and access this data. These CDOs are the CDtOs or Chief Data technology Officers and are usually within the IT organization directing or advising on the data architecture needed for the enterprise. Their responsibilities often also include incorporating privacy and security standards especially in more regulated industries. As the analytics and big data technology markets mature, and organizations complete their cloud migrations, it will be interesting to see how this role evolves…if it survives. Once the environment is built there remains only a traditional run and maintain need that is within IT’s purview.


As mentioned above, many CDOs have responsibility for the activities applied to a particular context such as analytics or regulatory reporting. These are the CDxO where x is the functional area for which they have accountability for data management. Often times, these roles serve as more de facto, rather than named, CDOs and are found in organizations with lower analytic maturity. As organizations bring together broader data, apply that to cross-functional use cases, and embed analytics into business processes, the contextual silos disappear requiring the CDOs role to expand.

While the other CDO—Chief Digital Officer—is focused on converting business operations to digital activities, the role of data and analytics in this process can make them both key consumers and producers of data. In some cases, this emerging role may have responsibility for the digital data and analytics utilized in the digital business operations. This seems to be found primarily in non-digital natives that are in the throes of their digital transformation and want to have one organization responsible for all things digital.


As technology advances, the role of CDO is evolving; with one potential outcome being the phasing out of the role. Organizational pressure to create value from data, a rapidly changing technology landscape, a maturing data culture and the prominence of the Chief Digital Officer will continue to shape the breadth, depth and context of Chief Data Officers.

To deliver long-term, recognized value, the CDO role must evolve from managing data created by other processes to creating data products consumed within processes. At that point, organizations must have clear lines of responsibility between the Chief Data Officer, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Analytics Officer. Without that, precious time will be spent on organizational turf wars, distracting these leaders from the work of creating competitive advantage through data and analytics.