The Big Debate: Are Chief Data Officers a Tactical or Strategic Force?

It’s an ongoing debate that different quarters within the industry can’t seem to have a definitive conclusion: Is the Chief Data Officer (CDO) a tactical or a strategic position? As more and more companies are establishing the role of Chief Analytics Officer (CAO), what to make of the CAO role then? How do CDOs and CAOs complement each other?

Industry pundits are quick to make the distinction between the two. They describe the CAO as being the key officer responsible in producing business insight through evaluation of multiple streams of data while the CDO is more concerned on the collection, management and governance of data. As Computerworld puts it: “Many in the data discipline see the CDO as focusing on tactical data management while the CAO concentrates on the strategic deployment of analytics.”

Gartner elegantly defines the CDO role as “a senior executive who bears responsibility for the firm’s enterprise wide data and information strategy, governance, control, policy development, and effective exploitation. The CDO’s role will combine accountability and responsibility for information protection and privacy, information governance, data quality and data life cycle management, along with the exploitation of data assets to create business value.”

Sounds neat? Well, not so fast. The situation on the ground, as we learned, could be slightly different. We asked the most seasoned data leaders in the industry and the responses we got are nothing less than illuminating.

The CDO role is strategic

Anthony Stevens, Chief Data Officer, Marsh: I see the CDO as focusing on strategic data asset development, and the CAO focusing on tactical analytics applications. Data is the ultimate proprietary asset that a business possesses, while analytics is largely business application-specific and therefore inevitably something that needs to be developed in an agile, tactical manner.

The CDO role is tactical

Peter Laflin, Chief Data Scientist, Bloom Agency: The qualities needed in a CDO are a great understanding of data and its potential, excellent IT and data management skills and a solid grounding in the “context” of the business – be that commercial focus or operational focus. The CDO needs to be adept at project management and provide the “due diligence” needed to ensure the organisation is managing its data correctly.  As a CAO myself, I feel that the split between CDO and CAO is one of compliance and day to day management. The CDO ensures that data is available for the CAO to extract value from.

I feel that the split between CDO and CAO is one of compliance and day to day management. The CDO ensures that data is available for the CAO to extract value from.

Jessica Rusu, Director, EU, Analytics, eBay: Many organizations do not have both roles, so the CDO can be stretched to perform the role of CAO, and vice versa.  The historical evolution of competencies in companies also play a role.  For example, many companies find they already have a strong Analytics framework, but struggle to manage the data and get various systems talking to each other, hence they are looking to hire CDOs rather than CAOs, as they now see that side of the coin as the biggest challenge.

Hugues Le Bars Chief Data Officer, Neopost: It’s a matter of maturity. You start at infancy level with siloed organizations and data. And you initiate a journey step by step, moving to technical adoptions and first line of business adoptions. Adoption requires a skilled multidisciplinary agent (i.e., a CDO). When maturity is reached, you need an additional agent focused on analysing data for business, a CAO. A CDO focus is data quality, data governance, data driven business modelling. A CAO is more focused on high level data analysis covering descriptive, predictive and prescriptive approaches.

You know, it’s actually both

Gary Goldberg, Chief Data Officer, Mizuho International: As CDO, I’m focused on the long term data needs of my organisation.  I don’t see analytics as mutually exclusive of this. In fact, I suggest that the CDO and CAO roles occupy the same core space but from different perspectives.  It’s much the same as the distinction between CTO and CIO.  While there are always exceptions to the rule, I expect most organisations to have one or the other.

Yasaman Hadjibashi, Chief Data Officer, Barclays Africa: We see CAO as part of the CDO team, who ensures that analytics combined with data product management will be rolled out as an excellent competency to all business units for us. In our organisation, a CDO looks across analytics, MI & Insights, product management, architecture, platform delivery and standards & governance.  It is a very lean working relationship despite the CAO being part of the wider CDO team.

Jonathan Catling, Director, Global Data Architecture, Las Vegas Sands:  The objective of the CDO is to communicate to the business, as a whole, the value of the various layers of transformation of Data and Information in a way that justifies the initial investment in Data Management all the way through to real-time, in-memory, event-driven customer interfaces or a Big Data Technology driven Data Science approach.

Join us at the Chief Data Officer Forum, Europe 2016 convening from the 9-11th May in London. This premier event will include over 40+ speakers and keynote presentations. For more information, visit

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  6. And a CSO's ? (Chief Strategy Officer – Information Technology)

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