Big Data’s Person of the Year: The Chief Data Officer

  • Erin Hitchcock
  • March 5, 2018

According to a recent study by the International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide revenues for big data and business analytics will grow from $130.1 billion in 2016 to more than $203 billion in 2020, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.7%. And, if you want to talk REAL BIG numbers, get this – IDC projects that the world will create 180 zettabytes of data (or 180 trillion gigabytes) in 2025, up from less than 10 zettabytes in 2015.

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This explosion of data, along with massive projected industry growth, has already begun to create an environment in which enterprises are learning to monetize their data. Enter the CDO.

The Best Offense is a Good…Offense?

More than ever before, an offensive strategy is needed to increase the value of big data to the business organization. While earlier iterations of the CDO were more intently focused on data regulation and strategies surrounding compliance, the role is increasingly shifting toward driving innovation and increasing revenue streams around big data valuation.

Rather than maintain the status quo as purveyors of data governance and data quality, CDOs will inevitably begin to focus more on driving digital transformation within their organizations. While a certain degree of attention will still undoubtedly be allocated toward risk mitigation when it comes to handling large amounts of data, the need to foster a data-driven culture will begin to take precedence in order to further big data initiatives.

According to a Gartner press release detailing their most recent Chief Data Officer survey, survey respondents indicated that “for the first time, more than half of CDOs now report directly to a top business leader such as the CEO, COO, CFO, president/owner or board/shareholders.” This means that in short order, CDOs will become critical components in enterprise big data strategy – especially when it comes to driving the use of data as a business asset. And, according to Gartner – “By 2021, the office of the CDO will be seen as a mission-critical function comparable to IT, business operations, HR and finance in 75 percent of large enterprises.”

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – And Data!

So, it looks like your resident Chief Data Officer is ready to make their mark in corporate history. And with that many predicted zettabytes of data on the horizon, it’s probably safe to say that the role is here to stay. But what exactly will these individuals (and their teams) be responsible for when it comes to driving digital transformation within the organization? Good question. Let’s distil.

1. Digital Advisor

Gartner found that 71% of their survey respondents are acting as thought leaders on emerging digital models. Not only that, but they’re also helping to create the digital business vision for the enterprise. Having someone with a hand in the latest strategies surrounding data monetization is crucial when it comes to deriving value from your big data. And knowing how best to generate revenue from massive data stores is increasingly becoming a marker for success.

2. Opportunity and Threat Assessment

60% of Gartner survey respondents are engaged in the assessment of external threats and opportunities. The CDO’s unique perspective on the big data landscape serves as an important influence on business strategy and data handling procedures. 75% of respondents are also building and maintaining external relationships across their organization’s ecosystem – serving as liaisons to key influencers in the big data community and effectively keeping an eye on the pulse of the industry as a whole.

3. Using Data for Competitive Gain

Gartner found that 77% of respondents are developing new data and analytics solutions to compete in new ways. And, in a world where big data just keeps getting bigger, this means that the CDO will ultimately take on the daunting responsibility of driving innovation when it comes to helping enterprises find more effective ways of deriving value from their data and gaining a leg up over the competition.

So now that we’ve established that it’s high time to roll out the red carpet for the Chief Data Officer, let’s bring things back to earth for a second for a realistic look at the challenges that await – because nothing is ever easy.

Chief Data Obstacles

It can’t all be fun and games unfortunately. And the CDO is in for a couple roadblocks ahead as the role struggles to establish itself as an enterprise mainstay. Ranking highly among these identified challenges, according to Gartner, is a culture resistant to accepting change.

While data continues to proliferate across a multitude of industries, the internal mechanics of data adoption have been known to move far slower. This is sure to create resistance when it comes to embracing the importance of the CDO role into the mainstream suite of executive roles that have become common throughout so many organizations.

Another significant roadblock identified in the Gartner survey is poor data literacy, highlighting the need for CDOs and organizations as a whole to prioritize the standardization of language and terminology surrounding data usage and business initiatives. Doing so will ensure that the value proposition behind enterprise data utilization is easily understood and translatable throughout a variety of roles within the organization.

Despite It All, The Future is Bright

Despite some likely challenges ahead, the projected outlook on the role of the CDO is surprisingly positive. This is especially true in terms of the diversity we’re already seeing within organizations that have adopted the position. According to Gartner, by 2021, the CDO role will be the most gender diverse of all technology-affiliated C-level positions. And, when it comes to the average age of the CDO, 29 percent of respondent’s to Gartner’s 2017 CDO survey were 40 or younger.

The CDO has arrived and expectations are high. But the potential for exciting data-driven innovation is higher. And with the creation of data continuing to skyrocket into previously unknown territory, the possibilities for data utilization are endless…and likely profitable. Chances are you’ll be welcoming a CDO to your own company in the next few years – if you haven’t already.

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