Chief data officers are in vogue as companies grapple with value of data

The number of CDOs is increasing -- but how will organisations structure the role?

Plenty of firms are hiring Chief Data Officers (CDO) -- but it's not always entirely clear what they should be doing and how.

According to analyst Gartner, the number of CDOs in organisations around the world has more than doubled from 400 in 2014 to 1,000 at the end of last year. And the role continues to evolve as companies try to understand what it is that a CDO should be doing and what resources they should be given to do it.

Gartner says what at first may seem to be a straightforward issue -- work out what is needed, how much it will cost and how it can be delivered -- is actually quite complex.

Gartner breaks the CDO organisation into four different types as seen in the chart below: as a business service provider, as the business, as an engine room, and as everyone's organisation.

Image: Gartner

As Gartner VP Mario Faria explains: "There's no one correct way to design a CDO office -- its structure and strength depend on how it is used by the evolving organisation." In other words, don't sit down and try and map out the CDO's roll, it can only emerge over time and is most likely to fit into one of those four categories.

The organisational design of the CDO office must clearly take account of the role that data is expected to play in the organisation, but that becomes complicated because most CDOs are new to the role and often have little experience with managing large teams or designing and changing organisational structures.

Gartner explains the four categories of a CDO function as follows:

The CDO Organisation as an Engine Room: In this capacity the office of the CDO delivers operational data services that are,"focused on the needs of the internal users". To succeed means effective monitoring of data market developments and building expertise in how to use and mange data assets, and how to analyse it.

Everyone's CDO Organisation: This involves major changes in how organisations use data. Organisations have gained considerable expertise in how to manage data internally, now is the time to learn how to find ways to make your data available for others to use. Gartner believes that many, if not most, organisations still don't really understand how valuable their data is.

CDO Organisation as a Business Service Provider: The office of the CDO delivers operational data services that are used both internally and externally. The activities are expanded and integrated into a shared-service organisation that runs like a business.

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CDO Organisation is the Business: This point underlines the previous point. Information is one of the explicit external offerings of the organisation or is inseparable from the product line. The office of the CDO, "delivers internal and external data services that drive business transformation and differentiation", Gartner says.

According to Faria, fundamentally the CDO organisational design is about people."It is easy enough to think about what kind of CDO an organisation needs in order to meet its business goals, but it can be harder to put in place the right people to deliver on that structure. It's vital CDOs think critically about what skills and behaviours will be required by the office of the CDO in the short, medium and long term," he says.

As Gartner has pointed out, organisations already understand the importance of appointing a CDO and they believe that by the end of 2019 no less than 90 percent of IT organisations will have appointed one. Now we have their idea of how that role should evolve.

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