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How to be a successful Chief Data Officer: 3 tips

CDOs are often focused on the right goals, but aren’t applying all the best practices to achieve them, according to a Gartner report.

How to create an effective data strategy
At the 2019 MIT CIO Symposium, Barbara Wixom discussed how organizational data strategies have changed in recent years.

While chief data officers (CDOs) ranked the creation of a data-driven culture as the top critical factor for their data and analytics (DA) teams, the technical and nontechnical strategies necessary to achieve that goal are not being prioritized, according to Gartner’s fourth annual CDO survey.

The report surveyed 257 CDOs, chief analytics officers, and other high-level DA leaders across the globe to see what factors CDOs are prioritizing in their DA teams. The efforts of CDOs don’t match long-term goals, the report found: CDOs ranked the implementation of a DA strategy as the third most-critical success factor, but strategic activities, like creating a data literacy program, was only ranked 12th.

“The low ranking of strategic activities can be explained because the majority of organizations are at maturity level 3 or higher for EIM and business intelligence and analytics,” Debra Logan, distinguished research vice president at Gartner, said in a press release. “While the survey shows that information governance is important, especially master data management (MDM), CDOs should never lose sight of the business outcomes they are trying to achieve. Focusing exclusively on governance, even MDM, is not enough to succeed as a CDO.”

Emerging technologies are crucial to the success of data strategies, the report found. CDO respondents ranked machine learning (76%) and artificial intelligence (AI) (67%) as critical. Some 65% of CDOs said they are using or piloting machine learning, and 53% said the same about AI.

The report outlined the following three tips for how to be a successful CDO:

  1. Providing measurable business outcomes – for example, how DA can reduce customer churn as well as deliver specific outcomes such as data quality.
  2. Balancing tactical and strategic initiatives, especially when it comes to technology implementation (the emphasis is not on implementation, which CDOs should leave to the CIO).
  3. Experimenting with digital emerging technologies and looking for the best use cases to develop past the pilot stage.

Top challenges for CDOs

Executing these practices and becoming a successful CDO can be difficult to achieve, according to consulting firm Egon Zehnder in its study CDO Decoded: The First Wave of CDOs Speaks, released on Tuesday.

The majority (80%) of CDOs said that successfully evolving their company culture was either more difficult or much more difficult than expected, the report found. Some 68% said the integration of data and eliminating silos were their biggest challenges.

To achieve digital transformation, CDOs cited executive commitment (58%) and company culture (57%) as crucial components to success, the report found.

More than half (54%) of CDOs said they felt they spent more time evangelizing than actually executing. The report recommended organizations hire both executors and evangelists, which would open the door for CDOs to focus more on their initiatives.

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