Will The Chief Analytics Officer Replace The Chief Data Officer?

What's the difference between the two job roles?


The make-up of the C suite has changed dramatically over the last few years, with the growing importance of data and technology creating new roles in the boardroom to provide them representation befitting their preeminence in the decision-making process.

Those companies performing best in their data efforts often have a Chief Data Officer (CDO) in place, with a Forrester Research survey of 3,005 global data and analytics decision-makers finding that 45% of respondents had appointed a CDO. Gartner estimates that this number will increase to 90% of large companies by 2019. However, confusing the issue is the rise of the Chief Analytics Officer (CAO), who at many organisations is now joining or replacing the CDO.

In companies that have both titles, the CDO is there to concentrate on the infrastructure - that it is collected, stored, and managed correctly - while the CAO focuses on making strategic use of the data to create real business value - that it is analyzed, understood, and actionable. However, many companies now have a mature big data infrastructure in place. This is thanks to the good work done by the CDO, but companies have moved on, and leveraging this infrastructure is now the key. The CAO is subsequently set to become one of the most strategic roles in their organization. In this new paradigm, the CDO is likely to see their importance diminish, and they will have to adapt accordingly.

In a recent interview with us, Dr. Zhongcai Zhang, Chief Analytics Officer at New York Community Bancorp, Inc, noted: ’For data democratization to be done correctly, a delineation of two-part data ownership is important: while IT owns the technical side of data, the CAO should be responsible for the content ownership of data. The former is focused on data flow, storage (including some cleansing) and retrieval processes, and the latter often has to know the intricacies and pitfalls of the data across the enterprise repositories. This is how an analytics project often consumes 70% of the time in data preparation.’

Titles are less important to an organization’s financial future than ensuring that it has the skills it needs, but the skills required to fulfil these different functions are not the same. Those needed by the CDO are more technical, while the CAO role has a strong emphasis on leveraging insights by understanding the business. They must have an evangelism about analytics and what can be done with them in order to sell them to decision makers. Many managers fail to understand the subtleties in these differences. CAO, Adam Kornick at Aviva, argues that if a CAO is not particularly good at evangelizing and selling the capability, you might want to reconsider the appointment. CDOs are not, traditionally, salespeople in the same way that a CAO is required to be, and trying to crowbar them into the role so as to simplify things and have one person on the board responsible for data initiatives is unlikely to be successful.

There is a clear risk in the C-suite growing too bloated, suits piling into the boardroom with all of them shouting over each other to be heard. This is particularly dangerous when it comes to data, where there should only be one source of truth - a truth that could become confused with too many voices in play at the top. However, while many of the new roles emerging may seem interchangeable, simply shifting responsibilities wherever it feels like they could be shifted will never work. The attitude that the CTO is technical so they must be able to able to handle data, that the CDO understands data so they must be able to understand analytics, is wrong. They are distinct roles, and companies that can afford to have both a CDO and a CAO should, and those that can’t should focus on getting a CAO in place once they have the infrastructure set up. Ultimately, data is now of such importance and is used in so many facets of everyday operations, that it’s reckless to leave it all to one person. In the future, it is not going to be a question of either/or, it will be an imperative to make room for both.

Vision small

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