What is a chief data officer? A leader who creates business value from data

Mar 31, 2022
Analytics Careers IT Leadership

A chief data officer (CDO) oversees a range of data-related functions to ensure your organization is getting the most from what could be its most valuable asset.

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The chief data officer (CDO) is a senior executive responsible for the utilization and governance of data across the organization. While the chief data officer title is often shortened to CDO, the role should not be confused with that of the chief digital officer, which is also frequently referred to as CDO.

“The chief data officer is the senior person, with a business focus, who understands the strategy and direction of the business, but their focus is on how to underpin that with data,” says Caroline Carruthers, director at consulting firm Carruthers and Jackson, former chief data officer of Network Rail, and co-author of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook and Data-Driven Business Transformation: How to Disrupt, Innovate and Stay Ahead of the Competition.

Capital One appointed the first CDO in 2002. Only a few organizations followed suit in the decade that followed. The appointment of CDOs has accelerated in the past few years, according to a 2021 quantitative global study of chief data officers recently released by PwC’s global strategy consultancy, Strategy&. PwC’s consultancy found that only 21% of the top 2,500 publicly traded companies worldwide currently has a CDO in place, and almost half of all CDOs have been appointed since 2019. To date, many of those appointments have been concentrated in the insurance, banking, media and entertainment, retail, and IT/technology verticals.

NewVantage Partners’ Data and AI Leadership Executive Survey 2022, on the other hand, found that 74% of the firms it surveyed had appointed chief data or analytics officers, or both combined in one role.

The difference in the findings may stem from where the CDO sits in the organizations surveyed. Strategy& defines a CDO as “a single person at C-suite level or one level below, with responsibility for the company’s strategic approach to data.” NewVantage Partners takes a more expansive view of the role.

Chief data officer salary

According to compensation analysis from Glassdoor, the median CDO salary is $232,961 per year, with total pay, including bonuses and profit share, ranging from $142,000 to $399,000 annually.

Chief data officer job description

The CDO oversees a range of data-related functions that may include data management, ensuring data quality, and creating data strategy. They may also be responsible for data analytics and business intelligence — the process of drawing valuable insights from data. Or some data management functions may fall to IT, and analytics may belong to a chief analytics officer, a title that some say is interchangeable with chief data officer.

Although some CIOs and CTOs see creation of a CDO as encroachment on their turf, Carruthers says the boundaries are distinct. CDOs are responsible for areas such as data quality, data governance, master data management, information strategy, data science, and business analytics.

“The difference between the CDO and CIO in my mind is quite clear, and I often use the analogy of the bucket and the water,” Carruthers says. “The chief information officer is responsible for the bucket. They’re responsible for making sure that the bucket is the right size, that there are no holes in it, that it’s safe, and that it’s in the right place. The chief data officer is responsible for the fluid that goes in the bucket, comes out of the bucket, that it goes to the right place, that it’s the right quality and the right fluid to start with. Neither the bucket nor the water work without each other.”

Still, for now, the role of the chief data officer remains somewhat unsettled and evolving. NewVantage Partners says 59.8% of its executive survey respondents feel the chief data officer’s role remains nascent and evolving, while 40.2% say the role is successful and established.

Chief data officer responsibilities

According to Gartner, the CDO is responsible for a firm’s enterprise-wide data and information strategy, governance, control, policy development, and effective exploitation.

Initially, the CDO role focused on compliance and data governance, but IDC’s State of the CDO Survey, conducted between February and April 2020, found many chief data officers are now also responsible for using data to drive business outcomes. IDC found that 80% of the top KPIs used to measure chief data officer performance are business-oriented.

According to IDC, chief data officer responsibilities include:

  • Governance: Advising on, monitoring, and governing enterprise data
  • Operations: Enabling data usability, availability, and efficiency
  • Innovation: Driving enterprise digital transformation innovation, cost reduction, and revenue generation
  • Analytics: Supporting analytics and reporting on products, customers, operations, and markets

Chief data officer jobs

A recent search for chief data officer jobs on and LinkedIn showed positions available in a range of industries, including retail, healthcare, media, insurance, financial services, higher education, manufacturing, and government.

A sampling of chief data officer job descriptions shows key area of responsibilities such as: evangelizing and communicating a data vision a critical part of growth strategy; creating strategic data access policies; leading the design of analytics infrastructure; developing and executing a central data strategy to drive revenue; overseeing data governance, data investment and partnerships; and strategizing with C-level colleagues.

Companies are looking for, for example, highly motivated, experienced innovators who have produced tangible results, as well as senior-level leadership over data and/or analytics departments for seven or more years.

Chief data officer resume

Landing a CDO job requires a strong resume. For tips from technology resume experts on how to write the ideal resume for chief data officer positions, see “CDO resumes: 4 tips for landing a chief data officer role.”

CDO vs. chief analytics officer

Even though chief data officer and chief analytics officer are two distinct roles, they should both reside in the same person, argues Guy Gomis, partner at the recruiting company BrainWorks.

“I’m finding the best in class are combining the two,” he says. “Most leaders in analytics want to own the data strategy and how the company treats data and they want to own analytics.” It makes sense if you think about it. Analytics is how data provides value, so that’s an essential function. At the same time, you need a good data strategy and good data management or you won’t get quality data to analyze. Thus, Gomis says, “Best practice is having a chief data strategy and analytics officer who owns both data and analytics and works closely with the CIO.”

NewVantage Partners says in 2022 many firms have adopted this combination of chief data and chief analytics functions into a single chief data and analytics officer (CDAO) role. The firm says 44% of CDAOs now come from a data analytics or data science background, as compared with 29% who come from a data management or data governance background.

To whom should the chief data officer report?

IDC says 59% of chief data officers currently report to a business leader. Additionally, 80% of the top stakeholders chief data officers support are businesspeople, including the CEO, COO, CFO, and head of digital transformation.

While organizations are rapidly adopting the chief data officer role, NewVantage says there’s still a lot of confusion and disagreement on the mandate and importance of the position. Its survey found that 52% of participants identified the chief data officer as the executive with primary responsibility for data strategy and results. In 2022, 48% of respondents said other C-level executives had primary responsibility or claimed there was no single point of accountability.

Strategy& believes the CDO role should sit at the C-suite level or one level below because “appointing a senior-level CDO is essential for leadership teams seeking to maximize the potential of data as a strategic asset throughout the organization.”

Carruthers agrees. She says the chief data officer could report to various places in the organization, but she favors the CEO or COO.

“The only place that I believe it’s absolutely wrong for it to sit is into the CIO,” she says. “As the role evolves and matures, it’s reporting in to other places in the business. It’s moving toward more of a seat at the top table, which it should be. For me, the CIO and the CDO should very much be working hand-in-hand as a partnership, and a partnership doesn’t work when one partner works for the other partner.”

Anthony Scriffignano, chief data scientist at Dun & Bradstreet, who himself reports to Dun & Bradstreet’s CEO, says there’s no single answer to the question of where a chief data officer should report. “I’ve seen the role in finance, IT, marketing, R&D, it could even be product development,” he says. “Often it’s a new role, perhaps created by a person who was overwhelmed with the demands of their own role, so you’ll often find it in that part of the organization because that’s who created it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where it should stay.”

What to look for in a chief data officer

According to NewVantage Partners’ survey, 51% of executives at Fortune 1000 firms feel that a successful chief data officer must be an external change agent with fresh perspectives. Meanwhile, 14% held the opposite view: They felt a successful chief data officer must be a company veteran who understands the culture and history of the organization. Respondents were also split on the chief data officer’s background: 10% believed a successful chief data officer should be filled by a line-of-business executive who has been accountable for financial results, while 19% said the chief data officer must have a data scientist or technologist background.

Gomis says he’s seen chief data officers come from marketing backgrounds, and that some are MBAs who have never worked in data analytics before. “Most of them have failed, but the companies that hired them felt that the influencer skill set was more important than the data analytics skill set,” he says.

Good people skills certainly could be useful for getting out of the bind many new chief data officers find themselves in. “One of the biggest mistakes is not understanding what it will take to succeed, in terms of expectations,” Gomis says. “If you look at a lot of the people who have had the title of chief data officers and chief analytics officer over the last three years, there’s a tremendous amount of turnover.” When you talk to them and their former employers, “It turns out that the expectation of the company and the candidates were not aligned,” he adds.

Often, the problem is unrealistic expectations from an employer. “The biggest mistake companies make is to expect that because they’ve hired someone the problem is solved,” says Justin Cerilli, who heads the data and analytics practice for consultancy Russell Reynolds Associates. “Actually, you’re just starting to solve the problem — the tough decisions are still to come. That’s when you start asking who our people are, what our processes are, and how do we change our culture. CEOs tell chief data officers to change everything to get the end results they want, but don’t want to change the way they do anything.”