On role and title of Chief Data Officer

I left an extensive comment on a discussion surrounding the role and title of Chief Data Officer (CDO) over at Forrester Blogs by Gene Leganza, so thought I would share it here on our own blog (below).



CDO reminds me of CKO more than CIO — and also suffers some of the same challenges as head of BI in the blog by Boris in the job description. Most of the arguments are valid until we take the entire organization into view and that’s where I see problems.

Anytime this discussion on a new officer comes up it tends to rise from the desires, need to have more influence in the org, and aspirations of the specialist (and their ecosystem) rather than the need of the organization. Similar to a strong EA for example, what typically matters is whether the CEO (and board) is competent or not, paying attention to how the organization functions or not, and whether the culture and relationships are collaborative, combative, or even apathetic.

Unfortunately, one impact we have observed with the CIO and a few CKOs was confusion over the title officer by the entire organization, including those holding the title, when they suddenly became obsessed with their own power rather than service to others. Whether BI, EA, or CKO, in some cases we observed quite strong individuals who were driving critical value to the organization, but reporting to an infrastructure CIO who didn’t understand much at all about business or organizations, or worse in a few cases simply concerned with protecting their own turf rather than the mission of the organization and customers.

Generally speaking I think it’s wise to allow the brand of the individual rise up in the organization based on functionality, knowledge, and contributions to the organization–rather than yet another title ending with officer. Indeed, often has been the case when a person with a more humble title has had more impact, even in aggressive and highly competitive cultures, particularly when they are wicked smart and wise.

One problem rarely discussed is that corporate officer in many companies has real meaning in terms of authority, responsibility and legal accountability whereas in most cases the job description title of officer does not, creating confusion internally and externally (I am thinking now of one giant tech company in particular where titles have been a disaster to everyone but the CEO who hands them out).

I personally prefer scientist over officer and I’m not terribly fond of scientist (except when used properly to describe a true scientist) due to the disconnect in meaning and culture between science and business that is too often manifest in organizational dysfunction. I see functional roles more of a master craft person who may lead a small team, but is more interested in the value of their work than career aspirations to one day become a CEO, or even to lead large numbers of people where internal and external politics tend to rule. In fact it’s been my experience that the strongest functional people do not have any desire to hold the title of officer.

So my fear based on previous experience and observations is that in the rare highly functional organization the role and title will also function well–regardless of what we call it, but in the norm it may do more harm than good, in which case the stronger professional will likely either avoid the organization to begin with or move on at the earliest opportunity. .02- MM