IDC forecasts a tenfold increase in worldwide data by 2025, which is why the chief data officer (CDO) is proving to be one of the key change agents tasked with leading data-driven transformation. According to the 2018 ‘Gartner Chief Data Officer survey’, today’s CDOs have one of the toughest seats in the boardroom – responsible for unlocking data-driven innovation, inspiring stakeholders and building empathetic relationships, while integrating disparate data and analytics capabilities into a unified strategic discipline and helping businesses to achieve a competitive advantage.

No doubt, leading an organisation’s data and analytics program can be difficult at the best of times. It’s even more challenging if stakeholders have low levels of data literacy, in that they don’t understand the benefits that can be gained from being data-driven, or if they’re resistant to change. Employees might also have a general understanding that information is important, but their departmental leaders might be too busy with operational firefighting and tactical fixes to invest time in leveraging higher value initiatives.

Some organisations might be quick to place data-driven transformation in the “too hard” basket. But if your organisation produces data and isn’t maximising it in a way that delivers a competitive advantage, you’re well behind the eight ball and likely need a CDO-like figure to help you get there.

But, before you jump in to hire a CDO, it’s important to understand how this figure will contribute to your business and its transformation goals, as well as the main features you should be looking for. Qlik believes there are three key considerations that business leaders should focus on when making this critical hire:

  1. Customer Intelligence: An effective CDO should be able to develop a 360-degree view of customers and predict how best to optimise their experience. Ultimately, they will be concerned with customer intelligence initiatives around what’s working and what’s not, while capturing and leveraging customer sentiments on external channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn.
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  3. Risk, governance and compliance: The majority of CDOs originate from this function due to the huge priority it’s been given over the past few years. Focused on making sure a company’s data is accurate and secure, while also meeting regulatory compliance needs, a CDO should be able to work with legal departments and perhaps security teams to be successful in these areas.
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  5. New business models: Much like CEOs, CDOs must focus on maximising profit and developing new opportunities for transformational change. One area where this can be quickly realised is the implementation of business process management (BPM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. In these instances, CDOs must work together with their CIO or CTO counterparts to implement new solutions and technologies that drive return on investment (ROI), especially where data is involved.
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Fusing people, ideas and data

Technical prowess, specialist knowledge and change-management expertise are all key characteristics of a good CDO. Personal relationships are also central to their success, as influence often proves more important than hierarchical authority, the Gartner survey found. But, as the name suggests, being the organisational catalyst that puts data-driven thinking at the heart of every conversation is the most critical aspect of their role. They must de-silo people, ideas and data to identify opportunities to better use data across the organisation.

Business leaders wanting to drive transformational change must fully evaluate the skill sets and attributes of their CDOs to ensure that their background and experience is the right fit for the business, before putting an offer on the table. Being able to read, work with, analyse and argue with data is fundamental to business success. Coupled with the CDO’s ability to relate, build empathetic relationships and form data-driven networks, a business can quickly propel forward and realise true enterprise value.