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Chief data officer role is key to business success, says Gartner

There’s a new chief in business, set to take on stewardship of the company’s data assets, research shows

The chief data officer is set to become a key position in business, according to the latest research from analyst Gartner.

The third annual Gartner chief data officer survey was conducted between July and September 2017 involving 287 chief data officers, chief analytics officers and other high-level data and analytics leaders across the world.

Most of the survey respondents reported holding the formal title of CDO. Gartner said there has been a steady increase in the number of CDOs since 2016 – 57% in 2017 compared with 50% in 2016.

The number of organisations implementing an office of the CDO has also increased since last year, with 47% reporting an office of the CDO implemented, either formally or informally, in 2017, compared with 23% fully implemented in 2016.

Gartner reported that the average CDO office budget in 2017 was $8m among the CDOs who took part in the research. This is a 23% increase from the average of $6.5m reported in 2016. Some 15% of the CDOs in the study said their budgets were more than $20m, compared with 7% who said so in 2016.

Gartner also found the average size of the CDO office in terms of staffing had increased. The average number of full-time employees in 2016 was 38 – not distinguishing between direct and indirect reporting – and this year the average headcount has risen to 54 direct and indirect employees, said Gartner.

Valerie Logan, research director at Gartner, said: “We are seeing the data officer is growing. There are 3,000 to 4,000 CDOs in the market globally. It is a role that will persist.”

In Europe, the CDO position has been driven by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and it arose a few years earlier in the US following changes to banking regulations, she said.

“While the early crop of CDOs was focused on data governance, data quality and regulatory drivers, today’s CDOs are now also delivering tangible business value, and enabling a data-driven culture,” said Logan.

In the survey, CDOs said they were using privacy as an opportunity to drive value, leading to organisations building infrastructure and platforms that both respond to regulatory concerns and drive value and top-line growth, she added.

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The survey also found that 45% of the CDO’s time is allocated to value creation and/or revenue generation, 28% to cost savings and efficiency, and 27% to risk mitigation.

Logan added: “We are seeing value in data quality, governance and access. The biggest problem is to get access to clean information.”

The survey also reported that 35% of CDOs regard poor data literacy as a major challenge in their organisation. “Everyone needs to speak the language of data,” said Logan. “It’s like Six Sigma [business process methodology] from the 1990s.”

Six Sigma essentially enabled businesses to focus on their customers and identify the steps in their business process that helped them to become more customer-focused. Democratising data by providing the right data to help employees make informed business decisions is seen as the next phase in business transformation.

Logan said businesses should drive a federated model for data usage, rather than a top-down central strategy. “Create a centre of value and create a community of self-service,” she added.

Gartner has identified three levels of data maturity within organisations. The most basic form is self-service through an information portal with a business dashboard. This type of data access is becoming quite common, said Logan.

The next step up is an analytics workbench. Here, power users are given data visualisation toolsets. This is the area of analytics that will become pervasive, she said.

The advanced user is the data scientist, said Logan.“These people are leading edge, using predictive models, AI and machine learning.” This form of analytics is less common, she added.

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