Navigating the Chief Data Officer Role: Insights from a Data Leaders Coffee Talk

On the last Friday of January, I had the privilege of participating in a thought-provoking webinar featuring data leaders – Dael Williamson, Robin Sutara, and Joëlle van der Bijl. The discussion revolved around the challenges of Chief Data Officers (CDOs), the evolving nature of their roles in the AI age, and the crucial decisions organisations must make while appointing a CDO. 


The CDO Landscape: 

One key takeaway from our dynamic conversation was the diverse nature of CDO roles, each tailored to the organisation’s unique needs. The much-cited report by Harvard Business Review, revealing an average CDO tenure of 2.5 years, prompted us to delve deeper into the nuances behind this statistic. Specifically, we talked about different scenarios and the impact that they have in choosing the right type of CDO to be successful. 


Choosing the Right CDO for Your Organisation: 

We talked about the idea that different organisational circumstances demand different types of CDOs with varying skill sets and levels of patience. For organisations navigating the early stages of data maturity, opting for a “pioneering” CDO is more appropriate than a “settling” type.  

Here’s why: 

Strategic Vision: 

Pioneering CDOs excel at crafting strategic visions leveraging data to drive business outcomes. In immature data environments, this visionary approach is crucial to establishing a roadmap for data maturity and integration into the organisation’s overall strategy. 


Cultural Transformation: 

Immature data environments often necessitate a cultural shift towards valuing and utilising data. Pioneering CDOs are well-suited to instigate this transformation by fostering a data-driven culture, encouraging data literacy, and breaking down silos hindering effective data utilisation. 


Building Foundations: 

While settling CDOs effectively optimise established data infrastructures, immature landscapes may require building foundational elements like data governance frameworks, data quality standards, and data integration processes—areas where pioneering CDOs excel. 


Innovation and Experimentation: 

Pioneering CDOs are comfortable with ambiguity and can drive innovation through experimentation. In immature data environments, a pioneering mindset can explore new data sources, technologies, and analytical approaches to uncover value. 


Evangelising Data: 

Immature organisations might need more understanding regarding the potential of data. A pioneering CDO can serve as an evangelist, communicating the value of data-driven decision-making and fostering stakeholder enthusiasm. 


Are You Ready for a CDO? 

One common pitfall we discussed was the premature hiring of a permanent CDO. Without clear mandates, reporting lines, and accountabilities, a CDO may become frustrated and potentially leave within the first year, contributing to the 2.5-year average tenure.  


As such, I want to conclude by urging organisations to align on the need for a CDO and establish the necessary foundations before making this critical appointment. 


Recognising the challenges organisations face in committing to a full-time CDO, Arreoblue offers a Fractional CDO service. This solution enables organisations to benefit from CDO support without the immediate need for a permanent appointment, ensuring a strategic and well-planned approach to data strategy. Our team of experts is well-versed in various business models, and we work on a customised basis to accelerate time to value. If you are unsure how to take the next step, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.  


You can watch the on-demand recording of our coffee chat here.


Thanks for reading!
Rob McKendrick, Field Chief Data Officer, Arreoblue  


About Arreoblue: 

Arreoblue is a forward-thinking solutions provider specialising in tailor-made strategies to optimise business processes and foster growth. With our Assess, Accelerate and Amplify methodology, our experts will utilise their decades of experience to empower your people with a platform of success and solution that works FOR you. 


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