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The Real Case (and scope) for the Chief Data Officer.

by Andrew White  |  May 1, 2015  |  2 Comments

So like a red rag to a bull, a colleague of mine sent me an article (see Chief Data officer May Go the Way of Chief Electricity Officer) in ComputerWorld that clearly is leveraging the hype related to CDO yet adds little value to the topic.  In face the article causes more confusion than it helps.

Here’s a couple of issues to get us started:

  • Not one CDO we have tracked to date has said that they are concerned at all or only with ‘back office data’.  That might make a nice symmetry if Chief Digital Officers looked at ‘font office data’ but even that’s a rogue point.
  • It is not that we need to change how IT looks at data.  It’s a need to change how the business views data.

Correctly the article reports on newly named roles emerging; chief data officer, chief digital officer, and chief analytics officer.  There are others too.  And not all are chief types, either.  But if one looks at what is actually happening, you will see that these roles are all the same: how to leverage information for better business outcomes.   What differs is the focus and in which industry you operate.

Chief Digital Officers are all the rage in retail or consumer facing organizations.  This is because the greatest opportunity for business growth comes from digital transformation between the enterprise and its customer.

Chief Data Officers sprung up earlier, initially in banking as a response to a need to  reduce information-based business risk.  But even before chief digital officers got going this role was expanding.  As of today the scope has now reached:

Information (and analytic):

  • governance
  • risk mitigation
  • compliance
  • innovation
  • (business) value

No one said it was meant to be limited to back office.  Where did that come from?  Apparently David Mathison, the founder and CEO of the Chief Digital Officer Club, thinks this is the case.  Not sure he and his group are looking far enough ahead.

More recently, and not be outdone, some other information-based businesses realized their analytics was the source of greatest value to a range of business outcomes.  Such organizations came up either “BI leader” titles and that has very recently changed to chief analytic officer.  Though in my limited travels the CAO was more of a (BI) vendor play, than an organically developed title.

The real issue is this: the majority of CIO’s admit that they spend most of their time on technology and not enough on information.  Look at most IT strategies: they may mention information management and probably in context to storage (as the article says).  But where is the information strategy?  Where in the IT strategy is a discussion of business value of information?  Or guidance on what information is more important than others?  If these are not in the IT strategy it will likely be a technology strategy only.

But IT is not the problem (contrary to the article).  If the business said information was important, like its cash, we should have a leader (C level) in charge of it. The CFO husbands the organizations money.  The CIO is too busy with technology so we need a new leader. The chief data officer is it.  It’s just a shame the word ‘information’ was tagged by CIOs.

As with e-commerce leaders the chief digital officer role stand alone will be transient.  However not for the reasons cited in the article.  Today most chief digital officers are looking outward at customers.  The digital transformation taking place now requires a balanced approach and so this role needs to look at information strategy as a whole.  The chief digital officer will morph into chief data officer.  Digital transformation is not only about the customer.  It is about the enterprise and a closed-loop approach to fulfilling market needs – that includes supplier’s suppliers.  Duh.

So what about analytics?  Analytics is just a use case for information.  There are others.  Business applications use information to instantiate business processes.  So it is right and proper for some organizations to want to focus and emphasize analytics, when the business needs that focus.  But again, that is the chief data officer with a narrower focus.  In time it should revert back to the wider scope, and name.

So there you have it.  It’s not neat nor is it pretty.  It’s the wrong name – CIO would have been better but that’s been taken.

Here’s another thing, just for giggles: should the CDO be a business person or an IT person?  Here is the answer: a business person.  It should not be an IT person since technology has little to do with this role.  This role should be a line function role that drives the prioritized business needs for information.  How does the CDO work with other business leaders and CIO’s in every organization model?  We don’t know yet.  But we need to work it out, and soon.

Category: analytics  business-intelligence  chief-analytic-officer  chief-data-officer-cdo  chief-digital-officer  cio  information-advantage  information-innovation  information-leadership  

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

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on The Real Case (and scope) for the Chief Data Officer.


  1. […] Andrew White So like a red rag to a bull, a colleague of mine sent me an article (see Chief Data officer May Go […]

  2. Dave says:

    Nailed it.

    I also see a lack of commitment to really dig in deeply with the people who are doing the work to find out how to affect change internally, which makes viewing the problem from the perspective of the external customer even harder to achieve.



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