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The Chief Data Officer – The Next Great IT Role or a Sign of Failure?

Blog image I’m just back from Gartner’s Data and Analytics conference this week, and Gartner analysts spent the week making a passionate case for the critical role of the Chief Data Officer or CDO. This opinion stands in stark contrast to observations from a CIO conference I attended, where speakers argued that a CDO was a sign of failed alliances, needed only when the CIO and CMO can’t get along.

So which is it – the next great title to aspire to in IT, or proof that execs haven’t grown up?

Clearly, data is the lifeblood of all organizations today – or needs to be. Proper collecting, connecting, wrangling, and understanding of that data underlies any enterprise’s ongoing health. Organizations that fail to apply the appropriate controls to and extract maximum value out of their data will fail to thrive. From that perspective, it’s easy to argue for a CDO, an exec with a full seat at the table whose mandate is to “get it right” when it comes to data.

In my view, though, the notion of a CDO is a fad. I can’t imagine any CIO worth his or her salt not making data a central focus. Maybe the Gartner need for a CDO gets satisfied by having a very senior data leader who reports into the CIO, but I don’t buy the idea of data sitting in a role separate from the CIO. It’s an artificial separation and one that would likely inspire turf wars. The more cynical side of me sees all this Gartner promotion of the CDO as a way for them to make news and sell more subscription seats (Google “chief data officer images” – the majority of the first 20 or 30 hits is all Gartner materials).

Now, there’s a great chance I’m wrong, and the CDO is here to stay. I used to be an analyst at META, one of the several firms gobbled up by Gartner, and I was wrong there on occasion. But my gut says that while we have to “get it right” when it comes to data, we don’t need CDOs to do that.

What do you think? Does your organization have a CDO? Do you want to be a CDO? Is the CIO just too busy to get this right? Share your thoughts in our comments section.

Follow Michelle McLean on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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