What’s the next career step for the successful chief data officer?

Could it be chief marketing officer? Or, maybe, chief operations officer. Or, dare we say it, even chief executive officer.

All of those job roles are in the realm of possibility for the best and brightest among chief data officers, according to a new study from Gartner Group.

“Gartner, Inc.'s second annual chief data officer (CDO) survey has found that early adopters of the CDO role and the office of the CDO (OCDO) are pioneering a new organizational function, to go alongside IT, business operations, HR and finance,” the study concludes.

“Organizations that have made the strategic decision to introduce the CDO role are looking to get as much new value as possible from this position,” the study continues. “Thirty percent of the surveyed CDOs said they report directly to the CEO. CDOs are adding to the competitiveness of their companies by contributing to strategic planning and decision making, and by leading digital business initiatives.”

As a result, Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 15 percent of successful CDOs will move into CEO, COO, CMO or other C-level positions.

Why all this optimism? Because of the growing number of organizations that are really taking seriously the value of their data, and that want somebody to take charge of it. According to Gartner, the office of the CDO is being established as an operational department with the appropriate staffing, budget and responsibilities.

"Fifty-four percent of the organizations we surveyed said that their OCDO was fully or partially implemented, with a further 20 percent already exploring, planning to explore or planning to implement an OCDO within the next year. Only 19 percent said they are unlikely to implement an ODCO,” said Debra Logan, vice president and Gartner Fellow. Gartner analysts discussed the CDO role, and how CIOs can create a positive working relationship with their CDO, during Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.

According to the survey, the main business objectives of the OCDO are to increase customer intimacy (62 percent), competitive advantage (60 percent) and efficiency (54 percent). Respondents said that the main organization-wide responsibilities are oversight of analytics initiatives (69 percent) and data governance (68 percent). Next come responsibilities for defining the analytics strategy for the organization and ensuring information reliability and value (64 percent each). As the use of data and analytics continues to rise, data and analytics-related crises will continue to plague businesses that fail to implement the CDO role and an OCDO.

"While only 27 percent of those surveyed identified a specific data or analytics-related crisis or problem as their reason for creating the CDO role, some of the other identified objectives point to this," said Jamie Popkin, a Gartner vice president and Gartner Fellow.

"Twenty-four percent of the respondents said that the board of directors wanted the role,” Popkin continued. “Whatever prompted a high degree of board-level involvement in the creation of the new operational function must have had a major operational impact, or been thought likely to have such an impact in future. The board's involvement, together with the responses pointing to a specific crisis or problem, and the 41 percent of respondents who said that the CEO or CFO wanted the role, makes it safe to assume that this was a major strategic decision that affected business operating models."

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