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Knowing when it's time to appoint a chief data officer

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that goes into effect on May 25 has many organizations assessing whether they need to hire a chief data officer or chief analytics officer. After all, the GDPR mandates that any organization holding data on European citizens have a designated person with responsibility for compliance, accountability and communication of its data management practices.

But the GDPR is only one reason why an organization should appoint a CDO. Information Management spoke with Richard McElroy, leader of Calabrio’s Center of Excellence for Analytics on when an organization should appoint a CDO, with what goals, and what qualities they should look for in that individual.

Information Management: In what ways can a chief data officer help an organization?

Richard McElroy: Big data within an enterprise is obviously a hot topic today. Many enterprises see investing in business intelligence and analytics technology and solutions as the only means to better leverage this data.

Although these technologies and related systems are a critical element, to truly benefit from an organization’s data, the business needs to have executive sponsors and champions who understand data as an organizational asset that must be managed and leveraged appropriately. It needs to be a top down mandate that is executed upon by all of the stakeholders in an organization. And this, in my view, is the most significant way a CDO can help one’s organization.

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Gouri Mulaka, a senior lab systems engineer for Symantec Corp., walks past patch panels at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010. Intel Corp.' $7.68 billion purchase of McAfee Inc. may put pressure on rival Symantec Corp., the largest supplier of security software, to build hacker-thwarting technology inside corporate computers and forge new alliances to stay competitive. Sales will reach $16.5 billion this year in the global security software market according to Gartner Inc. Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

IM: How is the CDO role evolving?

McElroy: From my perspective and experience, CDOs currently tend to focus mostly on risk, compliance and policy management roles. I see the CDO role (ideally) evolving to be more impactful on every functional area of a business—serving to drive information, and analytics and business intelligence strategies to better the business as a whole.

The CDO role is evolving to serve more as a unifying factor between general data policies and strategies, and the key performance indicators and measures that evaluate the health and success of the organization. And, we are seeing the role further evolving from a pure regulatory focus to mainstream, thus helping engrain a more data-driven culture within the company.”

IM: What best qualifies someone to become a CDO?

McElroy: Beyond the typical technical qualifications around data science, analytics and business intelligence, I believe a successful CDO must have two other critical additional—and critical—qualities.

See Also 15 top job requirements for chief data officers

First, they need to truly understand the business at its fundamental levels - the intricacies of the industry, the success factors across all functional areas within it, and the overall market dynamics. Without this, creating and /or managing a data strategy to truly benefit the business becomes an exercise in generalities, and ultimately, they likely will not make a significant positive impact on the business.

Second is the notion of “soft skills;” the abilities around championing and selling the investment and benefits of data strategy. This would also include the needed leadership and people skills to be a driver of change to establish a true data-driven culture that recognizes the value of data as a highly leveragable an asset and that invokes business intelligence and data analytics as a core competency.

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