The 2020 chief data officer: A move to data intelligence

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The chief data officer is a rapidly expanding executive position that is popping up at more large organizations. As managing a company’s data becomes more complex and business users need faster access to the data, organizations are either bringing on a new executive or redefining an existing role to incorporate the responsibilities of a CDO.

Ten years ago, the role of the CDO barely existed. But by the end of 2020, Gartner estimates there will be more than 10,000 chief data officers in the world.

As more regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), will be pushed through governments globally, compliance is becoming a significant concern for businesses. Organizations are also dealing with an incredible amount of data, so more businesses are hiring CDOs to manage their data and ensure compliance.

Since CDOs are a net new position at a lot of organizations, many of these executives will be breaking into the role as the first-generation. The CDO will have to carve out their place in the organization and build out their teams, process and strategies brick by brick.

The evolution of the CDO

The first CDOs were born out of financial services regulations and the need for financial institutions to comply with those regulations. The CDO 1.0 was tasked with establishing responsibilities around data and providing transparency on the data processes. The role developed purely as a defensive play for large organizations, but a good defense can’t win the game on its own. Without a strong offense you can’t score points, or in this case, bring profitable products to market. Enter the next version — CDO 2.0.


The thought of the CDO 2.0 was: to be effective, you need to move beyond guarding the castle and instead create opportunities with data to grow the business and drive innovation. CDOs had to continue to add offensive capabilities (such as how you make money from data) on top of the table-stakes defensive capabilities (how do we comply with data regulations), in order for the role to grow.

This transformation led to the realization that a new way of thinking was necessary. The CDO 3.0 looked at how digitally transforming businesses needed to remove existing silos to make their data accessible for all data citizens in the organization.

This is not a simple process and involves creating holistic, usable and accessible systems, such as business glossaries, to centralize data within the organization. CDOs are the change agents that lead the way in evolving from data management to data intelligence.

Where are we today?

As more companies hire CDOs and the executives become more tenured in their positions, there will be increasing pressure to demonstrate true business value. The CDO 4.0 is meant to focus on creating data products and integrating data into existing products and services.

Data intelligence is about understanding the positive effects data can have on the business and offering the ability to create that impact. In this new paradigm, data citizens will use data to solve complex problems, implement ideas to drive bottom-line results and transform experiences.

Moving forward to the next decade, data will no longer be the purview of database admins or data architects — it will belong to every knowledge worker.

Are most organizations ready for the CDO 4.0?

Only a handful of founding CDOs have tenure in their roles. These CDOs have had the time to lead their organizations on the journey to data intelligence. Noting the growth rate of CDOs over the past few years, the majority of companies have only hired CDOs recently, and those executives are only just beginning to take their organizations on a data journey.

Many of them are starting at square one — defense. It will take most active CDOs several more years to fully transform their organizations into a holistic, data intelligent business.

So will 2020 be the year of CDO 4.0? In short, the answer is not quite yet. But as CDOs evolve and become more tenured, more data products will begin to surface, laying the groundwork for the years to come.

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