Gartner Blog Network


The Changing Face (and Scope) of the Chief Digital Officer

by Andrew White  |  March 13, 2017  |  1 Comment

It’s all in name.  Or so we thought.  At our recent Data and Analytics Summit we presented a new session titled, “Reimaging your Data and Analytics Organization for Digital Business” and in that deck we talked about the roles of chief digital officer and chief data officer.  What once had been a slowly evolving non-issue has now become a topic of conversation.  As you know, organizations been talking about chief digital and chief data officers for some, but for different reasons.  Up until recently the prevailing market trends suggested the following:

  • Chief Digital Officers were, for the most part, business oriented and outward facing to customers and markets and charged with defining the digital strategy as it pertains to same.
  • Chief Data Officers were, for the most part, business oriented and broadly focused across the organization, with scope spanning one to all uses of data and analytics.

Now these prevailing positions were evaluated and affirmed in survey after survey and many hundreds even thousands of interactions with clients.  These two positions outlined above were also somewhat forward looking – and even a little prescriptive.  I say this because chief data offer’ scope is all over the place from information governance, MDM, analytics strategy, BI, data strategy, retention policy, security and the list is endless – with few chief data officers actually doing them all. Of course that is changing.

Consequently the chief digital role looked like it would grow in popularity quickly then drop off as quickly, much as the head of e-commerce did years ago; and the chief data officer would continue to grow to become a new persisted role in business. Effectively the chief data officer might absorb the function of digital officer over time, unless marketing wanted the work.

But there is a now a new shift underway and it suggests a “coming together” that might be more conflicted than the originally passive merging the initial position above suggested.  An example will help.  Look at this new McKinsey report on chief digital officers in the pharmaceutical industry.  On reading this article you would be forgiven if you noted that the chief digital officers in scope are focused on a very broad end-to-end view of digital transformation – not just customer or outward facing.  In some ways this is a logical transition: you cannot win in digital business just with the best understanding of your customer – you do have to execute and deliver and learn – hence digital strategies need to look end-to-end across the entire ecosystem.

Last October at Gartner’s 2016 Symposium I sat down and had dinner with a chief digital officer of an insurance firm.  He told me that yes, indeed, he was originally focused and charged with outward facing strategies to better understand their customer. But over time he and his firm realized his remit needed to go into the supply chain, not just the demand chain.  His role broadened and in fact we agreed that what he really did was closer to what I had described as the chief data officer.

So now we have a confluence: since the scope of chief digital officers are becoming more broad, and given we already noted this for chief data officers, won’t the two roles bump up against each other?  I think the answer is yes and no.

  • The Yes Camp: The two roles directly overlap in that it is clear the roles need to have an end to end view, even if the work is not enterprise wide (it might be).  A digital strategy is enabled by a data and analytics element.  As such some firms will end up conflicted over the title.  Some firms may even hire both roles and eventually regret that they did.
  • The No Camp: Digital strategy is made up and enabled by data and analytics, and some part of the digital strategy will touch parts of the business enabled by data and analytics but are not of data and analytics.  As such a digital officer might even be a role in the office of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) – once the CDO office moves out from under one of the line of business leads departments.

So it seems we have a little turbulence ahead as the new wave of interest in expanding the scope of chief digital officer bumps up against the establishment of chief data officer.  In time it looks like the two might co-exist.  It maybe that only one remains ‘chief’ and the other becomes a role or a function in the office of the CDO or some other line-function role like marketing.  It just depends on how expansive your digital strategy is.

Category: chief-data-officer-cdo  chief-digital-officer  gartner-summits  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a research vice president and agenda manager for MDM and Analytics at Gartner. His main research focus is master data management (MDM) and the drill-down topic of creating the "single view of the product" using MDM of product data. He was co-chair… Read Full Bio


Thoughts on The Changing Face (and Scope) of the Chief Digital Officer


  1. Yves de Montcheuil says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Your post brought back to memory a diagram Ted Friedman once drew. If memory doesn’t fail me, it showed 2 squares, side-by-side. One read “Applications” and the other read “Data”. As a commentary, Ted offered that the usual representation was to show the data underneath the applications, implying a form of subordination. Being the champion of data, he wanted to be represent data as an equal to the applications. (This actually may have happened at an early AADI event, where it was all about app architecture and Ted was here to “represent” the data-side of the house).

    Anyway, the point I want to make here, is that which CDO dominates is a question of perspective:
    – Look at it through the lens of digitalizing the organization, of customer/employee portal or apps, of deploying smart meters, etc.: this is a Chief Digital Officer led effort, and data is here as a supporting element, or as a by-product.
    – Look at it through the lens of using data to inform business decisions, of running predictive analytics to fix things before they break, of embedded analytics and reporting, etc. and the Chief Data Officer rules.

    In some organizations, one CDO will be subordinate to the other. But why can’t they co-exist side-by-side, and own each their realm of projects?



Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.