Chief data officers (CDOs) are among the most highly sought-after executives among corporations for whom data analytics has become a cornerstone of digital strategies. But the rush to promote data-crunching experts to the CDO role has created a new challenge: Finding a leader who can use data to help drive a business transformation.
Companies eager to establish data analytics have promoted managers to the CDO role based on their technical wizardry rather than their leadership capabilities, says Joshua Clarke, partner for executive recruiter Heidrick & Struggles, who highlighted the problem in "Choosing the right chief data officer," a new report detailing the rapid evolution of the CDO role.
While such leaders succeeded normalizing data and leveraging it to improve decision-making, they largely lacked business knowledge. That has created a "leadership vacuum" in which the CDO is not always qualified to speak the language of the business, let alone apply data to gain a competitive advantage or transform the business, Clarke says.
If that paradox sounds familiar it's because the CIO role has followed a similar path. For much of the past two decades IT leaders were promoted to CIO based on their technology chops. But as more companies recognized that technology could be leveraged to gain a strategic advantage, corporate boards began to look for CIOs who demonstrated excellent leadership skills. They began hiring CIOs who could partner with the business to drive strategy.
Today's CIOs must be the complete package, able to craft solutions that meet employees' and customers' needs, as well as demonstrate the ability to think outside the box to help their companies stay ahead of competitors.
Similarly, many CDOs who have worked their way up from roles overseeing data operations or master data management are being called upon to harness data as an offensive weapon versus competitors, says Heidrick & Struggles partner Ryan Bulkoski. While the CDO needn't be a Ph.D-credentialed data scientist, he or she must be able to hire and work with such data crunchers to achieve corporate analytics goals.
To help companies figure out what type of leader they require to shepherd data strategies, Clarke and Bulkoski surveyed 82 data and analytics executives and identified eight CDO archetypes.
Forecaster: At 34 percent, Forecasters easily accounted for the majority of CDOs Clarke and Bulkoski surveyed.
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