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Editorial

CIOs Warm to the Chief Data Officer

9 minute read
Myles Suer avatar
CIOs historically viewed CDOs as yet another bureaucrat who would gum up the works. This attitude has since changed — and for good reason.

It's taken some time, but CIOs and CDOs (chief data officers) now understand the need for a strong working relationship. Data has become the driver behind digital transformation and better business decision-making. For CDOs and CIOs to succeed, they must succeed together. To get this partnership right will in part require CDO reporting and chartering and the creation of shared goals, objectives and key results (OKRs) and key performance indicators (KPIs).

CIOs and CDOs Find the Path to Work Together

CDOs have been around nearly 10 years. Half of the Global 500 have a CDO and they are found in more than half of state governments in the United States as well as key elements of the Federal Government — including being mandated by the Department of Defense. As the CDO function has promulgated across organizations, it has become clear CDOs have skills unique to those of the CIO. This includes skills around what Tom Davenport has labeled data defense and data offense. CDOs have been willing to take on topics like data governance, which CIOs historically shied away from, or in some cases, unfortunately led from an IT or top-down perspective.

CIOs have historically viewed CDOs as an additional bureaucrat who would gum up the works. CIOs also claimed CDOs would not be accountable for a total solution, but instead would leave it to the CIOs and architects to do all the work. However, this attitude has changed as the twin force of self-service business intelligence and digital transformation have brought data to the forefront of the enterprise agenda.

Related Article: Does Your Organization Need a Chief Data Officer? Probably

CIOs Warm to the CDO Function

CDO Reporting

Recent discussions with CIOs show that for the most part, they have positive views towards the emergence of the CDO.

But CIOs appear to be splitting between two camps. Camp one includes CIOs like Anthony McMahon, who see CDOs as a good thing as long as they report to the CIO. Camp two also believes the CDO role is a great thing, but think it should be a separate function from the CIO. Both groups think the exact CDO charter depends on the CIO and whether they are well versed in data and analytics. Yet CIOs also believe the chartering of a CDO organization is a strong indicator there is a mandate for data and for sharing data across business organizations.

Camp one's argument for CIO ownership of the CDO function is that it's challenging to define responsibilities and expect collaboration between CIOs and CDOs when each function has different reporting structures. However, former CIO Isaac Sacolick suggests this thinking could be a trap: “Unfortunately, there are still too many CIOs that know more about the boxes databases run on than the underlying data models and how the business drives competitive value from their data assets.”

Camp two's perspective suggests CDOs should not have the same reporting line. CIO Paige Francis said, "I think a CDO role is a great thing and should be separate from the CIO. The data officer should focus more on defining what data to collect, how to best use it and then continuously improve that process in line with business fluidity." So who should CDOs report to in that case? Francis said it depends on, “whoever will empower CDOs to best do their job. The CEO, CIO or COO I’d think. So many leaders are at different maturity levels in our wildly different organizations. If they report to the wrong person, the value even having a CDO function may be lost. Regardless of reporting structure, CDOs need advocates at the executive leadership and board levels. CIOs and CDOs need to debate and decide a common vision, and the CIO should back the CDO's solutions.”

Related Article: Chief Data Officer Enters v4.0: What Does That Mean?

CIO vs. CDO Roles

What should be the division of labor? CIOs believe they should provide the infrastructure, the data stores, and the operations and support for data-centric IT. CIOs should be custodians of the data. The CDO on the other hand, should lead the stewards of the data, which often includes the CIO for IT data.

CIOs believe a CDO's prime directives should include governance, citizen data science, cloud data management, DataOps, data quality, data security and data science. CIOs are hoping CDOs provide perspectives on how to build great data and support for data protection (security, retention and compliance). And since CIOs do not typically have data science or operations research backgrounds, they are looking to CDOs to know how to get value out of the corporate investment in data scientists.

Learning Opportunities

CIOs want CDOs to have a broad mandate across organizations and functions to identify, gather and help place value on data. This is about more than getting more from existing data, it is about determining options for new data collection.

Smart CIOs Don't Back Away From the Data Agenda

CIOs think it's a bad idea for them to back away completely from the data agenda — there is a difference between managing data and engineering data. Data modeling is hard to do without great data and it's hard to unify how people access and use data resources without a well-designed data architecture. This is where CIOs and enterprise architects can help.

Given this, CIOs should focus on technical data while CDOs focus on business data. However, CIOs want CDOs to have broad and sometimes overlapping data expertise. This includes management, analytics and higher-level data management. They want CDOs to have the time to be able to focus on all things data. CIOs say they would also like CDOs to have a strategic perspective on how to change data culture, how data can be used to move an organization forward, and how to implement privacy and ethics.

Related Article: The Rise of the Chief Data Officer

Coordination Is Essential

For CDOs to be successful, coordination is essential. CIOs hope CDOs become the ultimate intermediary to assure that new data silos are not created, and data is used for insight, innovation and revenue. Additionally, CIO have always worn too many hats, so having someone managing the data agenda is good for their businesses. Francis said, "The CIO and CDO should bolster each other." CIO David Seidl added, “They should plan strategy together, like other key connections at this level, it is critical. Trust and shared investment in efforts, as well as leveraging governance, so what each does is aligned is also critical.” In this process, Seidl says, “there needs to be integration and shared sprints and planning. When this doesn’t occur, everyone loses.”

The Path to Working Together

Enterprise strategies today depend upon CDOs and CIOs working together. Data is essential to timely decision-making and represents the fuel that enables the automation from digital transformation. For many established business franchises, getting data right represents a do or die moment. According to MIT-CISR research, 51% of companies still have their data locked away in silos. And 21% have their data integrated with the digital equivalent of duck tape and band aids. Only 28% have transitioned to being truly digital competitors.

For organizations not in that 28%, successful collaboration between CIOs and CDO is essential. But how do they do this? Here are five ideas on how CIOs and CDOs can work together and ensure their teams build the basis for being digital winners.

  1. Create a clear division of labor that supports the organization’s data agenda. CIOs often have broad experience in source systems and data movement. Their teams are natural leaders for this as well as using data and data models created to deliver digital transformation. Meanwhile, CDOs understand data processes including data governance, data stewardship, data quality, AI and data science. Together, they can deliver the end-to-end data products that meets the organization needs and create the ability to transform.
  2. Set up key data management coordination points. Data is complicated. And it can get even more complicated if people and processes get in the way. The CIO and the CDO organizations need to work together to ensure that data silos do not get established. Drawing lines with data processes is a mistake. CDOs and CIOs need to make sure that their teams do not color the lines between them. Historically managers have created hard lines between functions. However, if data functions become siloed from each other the business will not succeed at data or digital transformation.
  3. Adopt modern data principles. Data strategies will not work or be timely enough for their enterprises if either CDO or CIOs adopted waterfall-based data development practices. Instead, CIOs and CDOs need to ensure DataOps practices are deployed. These should be based upon the notion that data isn’t a one and done and continual refinement is critical. DataOps provides a collaborative data management practice focused on improving the communication, integration and automation of data flows between data managers and data consumers.
  4. Measure success through business outcomes achieved. CIOs and CDOs need to be measured by the business outcomes achieved through great data. CIOs are clear they do not want to be measured and incented by five-nines of service delivery or internal facing IT metrics. Instead, they want to be measured as their CEO is measured. CDOs, likewise, want to be measured by business outcomes. CDOs says that they want to be measured by measures such as improved customer experience.
  5. Ensure data functions are joined at the hip. Seidl said, “CIOs and CDOs need to plan the data strategy together.” With a plan created, they need to be joined at the hip by shared business goals and OKRs. This way everyone works together as a team, otherwise issues will be self-evident to leadership.

Parting Thoughts

CIOs today have a big agenda in digitizing and integrating their companies. Having an expert data leader to take on the data agenda allows the CIO to become a critical change agent for digitalization. Meanwhile, CDOs need to ensure that AI and data are adopted. Doing this right creates a business advantage. So, CIOs should take on the transformation agenda and allow CDOs to manage the creation of, access to, and automation of data.

About the author

Myles Suer

Myles Suer is the leading influencer of CIOs, according to Leadtail. He is the director of solutions marketing at Alation and also the facilitator of the #CIOChat.

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