DATAx presents: Understanding what is expected from a CDO

In the lead up to this year's DATAx New York festival, we present the second of our three-part series following a conversation we had with Bharti Rai, head of data and digital innovation at Bayer, regarding the ever-morphing expectations placed on CDOs


Last week, DATAx examined what CDOs need to consider when deciding which vendors to go with in a rapidly changing technological landscape. This week, DATAx queried Bharti Rai, head of data and digital innovation at Bayer, about the often ambiguous nature of the CDO role and what kind of challenges they can face when leaders and employees are still unaware of the breadth or limitations of the role:

CDO is still a relatively new role, especially in the life sciences industry. Some companies have established it one to three years ago, while others are still considering it. Even in companies where this role exists, the exact scope and purview may vary significantly and is still in experimentation mode.

Still, a few things are clear and consistent across organizations. The role sits firmly in the business side of things, not in IT. This signals that data is truly a business-led topic and has far-reaching implications on the processes, influence, adoption and skillsets within the rest of the organization. However, several other factors vary:

Where does the new kid on the block report?

While the title suggests a C-Suite designation, only a handful of companies have actually elevated it to a CEO direct-report. Instead, the role could report into commercial effectiveness, COO, CFO or customer insights. Each hub brings with it its own challenges and may give the role a different flavor.

For example, a CFO reporting line may put undue focus on data as a cost item. Commercial effectiveness, if too focused only on sales operations, may focus the function toward data needs of the field force. Customer insights may prioritize analytics needs over field and digital/marketing.

Scope could include everything in the kitchen sink or not enough

On one hand, a CDO organization may oversee everything from data strategy and innovation to acquisition and contracts, and data governance and stewardship to reporting, analytics and data science. On the other, it may only handle the data lifecycle and data science may be a wholly separate, partner function. Whether IT capabilities such as data warehousing are within their purview is also an open debate, with leading companies leaning toward a full end-to-end scope in order to actually impact the lifecycle in an agile, swift manner.

Accountability vs authority

One of the biggest challenges of this role stems from the fact that it may be perceived as accountable for the availability, quality and application of end-to-end data, it may not have the authority or the right organizational model behind it or the right functions reporting to it. Budget control may be dispersed into different functions leading to a lot of time spent "aligning" vs delivering. Of course, every function needs to collaborate and influence across the organization. However, an effective organizational model is key to making this role more effective.

Balance of strategic vs operational

The CDO function has day-to-day operations to deliver on including dealing with data quality issues, producing reports, KPIs or data for incentive compensation. However, their value will only be visible if they are engaging at the strategic level. As with most operations departments, if things are quiet, no one notices the value or the effort it takes to keep it quiet. Teams who are not staffed adequately struggle with this balance, especially if the operational issue is urgent and time-sensitive. Thus, organizations must determine the appropriate team size to be able to balance both priorities.

Bharti Rai will be on a panel on Day One of the Chief Data Officer Summit, part of DATAx New York, taking place on December 12–13. To attend and hear more great insights from other CDOs from some of the biggest and most influential organizations, register here today.

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