The Growing Generational Gap in the CDO Community

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If you Google 'chief data officer', you'll come across a large number of links to articles, white papers etc. entitled "The Emergence of the CDO" or something along those lines.

How long is the CDO going to be emerging for? There are many Chief Data Officers/Offices that have been in situ for a number of years - who've fully emerged.

At Corinium, we pride ourselves on the work we've done supporting the emerging C-suites in the data & analytics community. Just over 3 years ago, when the CDO and CAO titles were mostly new, the networks we created were invaluable to those just getting to grips with the role.

But now, many of those new CDOs are not-so-new CDOs anymore. Their roles, challenges and objectives have evolved. And yet, new CDOs come into existence all the time as companies realise the importance of their data and the need to have someone take leadership of it.

Before I get into this further, I want to clarify that by CDO, I refer not only to the actual Chief Data Officer but also to the Chief Data Office. In some instances, the Chief Data Officer in a company may have been a CDO for 2-3 years yet the company they currently work for has just entered the world of CDO. The generational gap applies to people and companies.

First Generation CDOs

I define a First Generation CDO as someone who has recently taken on their first CDO role and/or a company that has recently employed their first CDO. Person and company have the same challenges at this point.

Our research indicates that First Generation CDOs are typically responsible for the following:

  • Assessing the state of the company's data which, more often than not, is in some state of disrepair
  • Developing a data warehouse that acts as a central repository for all of the company's data
  • Defining the data governance, management and ownership frameworks that will ensure data quality is created and maintained
  • Working with business to understand data requirements and then how to provide them with this data - whilst maintaining control (see point above)
  • Assisting in developing reporting tools through BI, visualisation tools, etc.
  • Ensuring compliance to data or sector-specific regulations - this is mostly true in the financial services sector where most companies employ a CDO to make sure that they're compliant to regulations

In addition to these key responsibilities, the First Generation CDO is concerned with communicating his/her value to the organisation, evangelising the importance of data and building business processes to ensure efficient workflows.

These are all the critical, foundation-building baby steps that need to be taken before moving into the next phase or generation of CDO-ship. The CDO is producing step-changes within the organisation's data architecture and usage. Change is big but perhaps does not deliver significant business value.

Second Generation CDOs

Our research has uncovered that, in the second phase, there is almost a shift away from being a CDO toward being a Chief Analytics Officer. The ultimate end goal for data in an organisation is to have the ability to use it to make good decisions in real time.

It's based on this that I assess the Second Generation CDO as being increasingly responsible for, and involved with, advanced business analytics. The first phase was all about getting data in shape for it to be utilised accurately across the business.

It's at this point where the CDO is involved in the optimisation and transformation of the business.
Our research has uncovered that, in the second phase, there is almost a shift away from being a CDO toward being a Chief Analytics Officer. The ultimate end goal for data in an organisation is to have the ability to use it to make good decisions in real time.

Innovation through data!

The Second Generation CDO becomes an integral part of eking out the hard-fought percentages of business improvement and profitability. Innovation across the organisation has come to rely on data. Product innovation takes a look at how the product is performing, who buys it, how it is manufactured etc. to evolve it and keep its competitive edge. None of this could be done with access to good quality data in real time - or at least in a short space of time.

I've spoken to a number of CDOs who are at the forefront of their company's digital transformation since data (and analytics) plays such a critical role in digitising a business. It's perhaps for this reason that a number of Chief Data Officers have moved in Chief Digital Officer roles.

What does the Future Look Like?

It's not easy to predict what the next generation will look like and how they'll act. I don't think Facebook anticipated that the current youngest generation would not be big users of the service.

I am intrigued by the development of the CDO - and for that matter the CAO and the Chief Digital Officer. Could they all blend into one? Or will they be obsolete in a few years and replaced with a new emerging C-suite?

For now, we'll keep focused on understanding the different needs of the First Generation and the Second Generation of CDOs to ensure we can provide relevant information and networks. It is likely that the next generation will only emerge in 4-5 years time.

By Craig Steward: 

Craig Steward is the Managing Director for Corinium’s EMEA business. His research is uncovering the challenges and opportunities that exist for CDOs and CAOs and the Forums will bring the market together to map the way forward for these important roles. For more information contact Craig on


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