In brief

In brief

  • If the business is not organized around data, what should a CDO do?
  • CDOs are being asked to lead enterprise-wide data capabilities and drive business impact and outcomes. Are your CDOs well-positioned to do that?
  • Compliance requirements continue to evolve. How does this dimension of the CDO remit align with the broader ask?
  • Many companies are yet to fully translate the true power and value of the CDO role into reality. Why is that?

Data isn’t just enabling business, but driving it

For years, IT has served as the “default home” of (all structured and internal) data—accessed only when required to meet a specific business requirement. Not surprisingly then, that today most organizations have hundreds of independent data silos, plethora of legacy systems, applications and data platforms waiting to be decommissioned and migrated to newer models, and pockets of duplicated capabilities across functions.

However, by leveraging structured and especially unstructured data and using new technologies, principally artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), digital natives challenged the established model. They transformed data into a business asset—here, data is continuously providing insights and clues into the business—where it is and could go. Data is no longer an enabler of the business, but data is steering the business. This is where CDOs can step in to help free data from the bounds of legacy constructs including technologies, process, and culture and build the right set of capabilities. But, most organizations are vacillating in defining the precise role of the CDO, resulting in a divergence between where actual effort is spent vs where it should be spent. Why this disconnect?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that it has been much easier to build a specific solution to address a problem—for example, developing a particular customer acquisition model to improve a campaign’s effectiveness. This, as opposed to building the data infrastructure and data flows, together with advanced analytics engines and necessary talent with which the organization could build any kind of customer-facing model, whether it be for acquisition, retention, or servicing. This will require a strong commitment from the leadership to: first, understand the existing and required data, analytics and technology landscape across the enterprise and business function; and second, develop the necessary capabilities to extract business value buried in the data.

Moreover, any data-driven transformation effort will not yield the desired results if it is not accompanied by an organization-wide data literacy (how to derive meaningful information from data) and talent transformation initiatives (developing the right capabilities to leverage new data). This change management is, indeed, a big task!

Whose table should the CDO sit at?

If the scope of responsibilities is so comprehensive and the role is thought to be highly strategic to business, then who should the CDO report to? The CEO, CIO, COO, or CFO? There was a time when CDOs of yester years reported to CIOs, and no questions asked—this was when the scope of responsibilities were still within the realm of IT and the company was organized mostly around structured and internal data. Today, the business environment and data landscape are very different.

“Increasingly, CEOs are looking to CDOs to help develop new data-based agile business strategies so their company could gain a competitive edge. They are expected to serve as change agents, straddling easily between technology and business agenda.”

— Ramesh Nair, CDO Services Lead, Data Business Group - Accenture Technology

Building data capability for today and tomorrow

If a company’s focus is on building the capabilities necessary for undertaking an enterprise-wide data-led transformation, then it does not really matter if the person to lead this initiative—the CDO—is from within or outside the organization, or comes from a technology or business background. The incumbent needs to bring a number of critical characteristics that go well beyond data skills. In this respect, the following are some guidelines for what the CDO must do to build the data capabilities along three main pillars.

1. Move to the New

Migrate from the old data ecosystem of data warehouses & marts to the world of data lakes and cloud, enabling more real-time data flows, and supporting the changing demands of the digital marketplace.

2. Build the New

Carry the old model and talent (with the deepest of insights into what makes the products & services tick) into the new ecosystem. CDOs are best positioned for this task.

3. Go beyond today’s New

Keep an eye on the future and go beyond today’s environments and capabilities. Embrace new & agile ways of building data systems and engagement models across data, technology and business functions.

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CDO—your “go to” leader for leaping into the future

To push their company even further and position it for the next 10-years, CDOs will need the persona discussed above as well as leadership traits and ambition to lay down the groundwork now so that their organization can fit seamlessly into the era of the digital ecosystems and the world of the Internet of Things (IoT). If today’s world represents an explosion of data and the power of AI, the next few years will show the present era to be the baby steps of a massive transformation. Your organization must be positioned for this moment, even if that vision extends beyond the tenure of the current leaders.

When just about everything—from a hockey puck, car seat, hearing aid to wearables—are constantly emanating data about your customers and products in volumes never imagined before, will you stand by and say that you only need a data repository of your own data? Or, will you want to be a player with the people, technology, processes and leadership to just naturally fit into that ebb and flow of a data-driven AI-powered business ecosystem? If this is the vision you wish to achieve, then you must enable your CDO to build foundational capabilities as an integral part of your enterprise-wide strategy.

Ramesh Nair

CDO Services Lead – Data Business Group, Accenture Technology


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