The Gist

  • Wide-ranging expertise. A diverse skill set is essential for CDOs, including crafting data narratives, managing data governance and developing data-driven strategies.
  • Data monetization. Successful CDOs excel at identifying and capitalizing on data-driven opportunities, creating new revenue streams and enhancing business growth.
  • Technical savvy. CDOs must possess extensive knowledge in data management technologies and trends, while maintaining data privacy and security across all business stakeholders.

The rapid growth of the digital landscape has driven an increased demand for data scientists and chief data officers (CDOs) across a multitude of industries. As these roles become crucial components of business strategies, a CompTIA report projects a 5.5% growth in data scientist job opportunities in 2023. With organizations relying heavily on data to make well-informed decisions and accelerate business growth, CDOs must possess a diverse skill set to succeed in the ever-evolving digital ecosystem. Let's take a look at the most essential skills for today's CDOs, exploring their ability to craft compelling data narratives, manage data governance, and develop strategies that harness the true potential of data. By refining these skills, CDOs can effectively drive a data-driven culture and achieve maximum impact for their organization.

“In today's data-driven world, the role of a chief data officer (CDO) is more critical than ever,” said Ani Chaudhuri, Dasera CEO. “Organizations rely on data to make informed decisions and drive business growth. To ensure success in this role, a CDO must possess a unique combination of skills.”

Below are the most needed skills for CDOs today:

1. Ability to Weave a Compelling Data Narrative 

Shayde Christian, Cloudera chief data and analytics officer (CDAO) explained that when we spotlight essential skills for today’s CDOs or CDAOs, we tend to think of those in our technical toolbelts. However, Shayde said, “In my experience, the most pivotal characteristic that is a must-have for the modern data leader is the ability to clearly and effectively tell and sell your data story. Storytelling isn’t an inherent soft skill for many of us, but it can truly be the difference between life and death for your data organization.”

Enterprise data team members understand the value and role they play in empowering data-driven transformation and delivering consistent and impactful business results, but not everyone does, according to Christian. “It’s paramount CDOs and CDAOs be able to confidently and articulately weave a data narrative so insightful that every key stakeholder, executive and senior leader can’t possibly question your teams’ merit or impact on mission-critical goals and outcomes.”

“A CDO should champion a data-driven culture throughout the organization,” Chaudhuri agreed. “This requires fostering an environment where data is accessible, understandable, and valued by all employees. By promoting data literacy and providing training, a CDO can empower employees to make data-informed decisions.”

Related Article: Creating a Clearly Articulated Data Strategy

2. Ability to ‘Conduct’ Organization’s Data Strategy

The best CDOs possess strategic vision and leadership, technical expertise, an understanding of data governance best practices and an understanding of data as a strategic asset, said Amperity data scientist Yan Yan. They require a combination of skills and expertise to effectively manage an organization’s data initiatives and foster a data-driven culture. 

Yan likened the role to that of a conductor for a symphony, where each musician and instrument represent different components of an organization’s data strategy. In this setting, the CDO takes on the role of the conductor, orchestrating a harmonious performance that translates into data-driven success. 

“Just as a conductor sets the tempo for the orchestra, a CDO establishes the data strategy and vision for the organization,” Yan said. “They decide on the rhythm of data initiatives, ensuring that the data management, analytics and governance are aligned with the organization’s broader goals.”

3. Capability to Monetize the Data

CDOs are critical in identifying opportunities where data can lead to new revenue streams, according to Bob Rogers, CEO and data scientist. This involves following market trends to see where a new product or service could benefit end customers. It’s as much about knowing which data investments will pay off and which won’t.

Learning Opportunities

“A mistake that I’ve seen many organizations make is to try to clean and aggregate all of their data in a single, monolithic digital transformation project,” Rogers said. The difficulty lies in the diverse nature and intricacies of data, leading to a more complex landscape than initially anticipated, with only a portion of it yielding valuable outcomes. Investing millions in transforming and cleansing data that ultimately provides no value can result in a negative return on investment. Successful CDOs are those who can identify worthwhile projects and effectively manage the expansion of data aggregation components, he said.

4. Operational and Technical Expertise

Peggy Tsai, BigID's chief data officer, emphasized that CDOs need a deep understanding of data and its management, encompassing aspects such as data architecture, integration, quality and analytics

“A CDO should be familiar with the latest data management technologies and trends, such as cloud computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence,” Tsai explained.

Additionally, Tsai said, CDOs must possess experience in handling extensive data sets while maintaining data privacy and security. According to Tsai, mastering these skills is vital for organizations to guarantee the consistent and effective utilization of their enterprise data assets across all business stakeholders.

5. Ability to Manage Data Governance

As the custodian of an organization's data, a CDO must establish and enforce data governance principles to ensure data quality, accuracy and consistency, Chaudhuri said. “This involves defining data standards, implementing data management policies, and creating a data governance framework. The framework should encompass data lineage, data cataloging and data stewardship, which helps organizations maintain a single version of truth and enables them to derive meaningful insights from their data.

Chaudhuri added that a robust data governance framework also helps mitigate risks by ensuring compliance with industry regulations and data privacy laws, which have become increasingly important in recent years.

Final Thoughts on the Most Essential Skills for CDOs

The evolving digital landscape demands that chief data officers be equipped with a multifaceted skill set to effectively propel data-driven transformation and foster a culture of data literacy within their organizations. CDOs must not only excel in their technical expertise but also develop strong communication, management and strategic vision to navigate the increasingly complex data environment. As organizations continue to amass vast amounts of data, the most successful CDOs will be those who can harness the power of data to create new opportunities, streamline processes and enhance decision-making, ultimately contributing to the growth and success of their organizations.