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Every Business Leader is a CDO in the Making

by Andrew White  |  October 25, 2017  |  Comments Off on Every Business Leader is a CDO in the Making


As you know Gartner has for many years focused on serving the needs of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and helping them make smart decisions over how to invest in IT to help their organizations be more successful.  This sounds so simple.  Of course, it is not that simple.

First, “IT” is not one thing.  Many folks often forget that IT is actually information and seperately technology.  This might seem trite but it goes to the heart of much of what our Data and Analytics team cover in terms of research.  An example may suffice.

When IT organizations seek tackle data governance (we actually call this information governance and you will see why in a moment), they recognized that business leaders needed to lead and justify the effort.  But the word “data” tended to infer an IT focus; and worse, IT also has a different focus on technology governance – how tools and technology are used and protected.  Thus “IT governance” tended to equate to “technology governance” and what we mean by information governance fell by the wayside.

Our team has written to the need for business alignment here.  And we have now come full circle with the CIO and IT linking to the business aspect of information governance in figure 2 of Enterprise Digital Governance: Resetting Governance for the Digital Age.

Second, IT is of course not the only focus of CIOs.  As an old Supply Chain leader in a normal company (several manufacturers, many moons ago) I know firsthand that I operated as an IT-user and an IT-leader.  I would often spend or sponsor from our business budget for various locally deployed or used IT solutions or services.  The CIO may or may not have known or been involved.  The market calls this now “shadow IT” and now we talk of things like “domain analytics” which basically means “a specific business domain doing something in analytics (or now more data and analytics) rather than IT doing it”.

And given IT is both information and separately technology, it seems that every business leader is really an IT leader even if they don’t think of themselves that way.  This simple idea seems to jive with Gartner’s direction over the last number of years.  Introducing Gartner for Marketing Leaders is not about how Gartner advises marketing strategy, but how we can help marketing leaders leverage information and/or technology to be better marketers.  This is the same concept behind previous investments in industry solutions with things like Gartner for Supply Chain Leaders.

You can imagine that we can apply this idea to all leaders, such as head of sales, heard of HR, head of finance (who were already popular sponsors of analytics and BI programs anyway), head of product/development, head of R&D, head of manufacturing, head of customer services and so on.  In fact, which business leaders is not held hostage to information, its value, quality, and impact?  And that was just information, not even the technology.

So this last paragraph is reason enough to mention Gartner’s recent acquisition of Conference Executive Board (CEB) since CEB speaks too many of those other leaders.  Gartner is now “the world’s leading research and advisory company”, and the organization is no longer narrowly focused on the CIO.  As noted above, Gartner was focused outside the office of the CIO for some time.

So what of the Chief Data Officer (CDO)?  This is where the new Gartner is very interesting from where I sit.  A Chief Data Officer is not, despite the name, a data geek (though some CDO’s might be).  A CDO is a business leader that helps or leads the data and analytics strategy (the “I” in “IT”).  A CDO may lead the information governance or MDM program; the monetization or selling of data as a product, or the analytics and BI strategy or all of the above and more.  See Staffing the Office of the CDO.  Many CDO’s were EVP of Marketing before hand, or head of Supply Chain, or COO. A CDO may or may not own technology – that’s an argumentative situation in the market right now.  See Survey Analysis: Second Gartner CDO Survey — The State of the Office of the CDO.

One way to look at the role of CDO is to recognize that every business leader has needs for information, and additional insight (the analytics in ‘data and analytics’) to drive business processes, decisions, and their outcomes.  As such, every business leader is a CDO in the making, they don’t know it!  With the growth in digital business and transformation, this idea that every business leader is a CDO in the making will become self-evident eventually.

Every business decisions relies on data, and many relay on analytics.  There is no mandatory requirement in each case to own or lead technology investments.  That is not the point.  The point is that since every business leader uses data and analytics, each and every one has a stake in sponsoring, leading, and influences data and analytics strategies.

So our CDO research could and should, in time, be applicable (and written to) all the business leaders Gartner writes too.  Now that would put the cat among the pigeons.

Gartner is focused on all uses of information and technology.  That just about includes the planet earth.  So the opportunity here is just massive.  Boy, I thought we were busy before now!

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Category: chief-data-officer-cdo  

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

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