Thanks to business analytics technology, companies now have access to vast amounts of data. This data can contain anything from demographic information about a company’s customer base to metrics regarding a product’s market penetration. By gathering and analyzing this data, businesses can make informed strategic decisions. Doing so effectively requires the right expertise and leadership. A chief data officer, or CDO, can provide that leadership.
Though a relatively new addition to the C-suite, the CDO is quickly becoming essential to shaping business vision and strategy. But what does a chief data officer do, exactly? And how can you become one? Enrolling in an online master’s in engineering program can be one way to advance your career to this senior role.
What Does a Chief Data Officer Do?
Businesses of all sizes consistently seek to better understand the specific data they generate and, ideally, find ways to leverage it for a strategic advantage. Essential tasks that might fall under the job description of a CDO include:
- Identifying the benefits to the firm of particular types of data (e.g., customer interactions, sales histories, etc.)
- Treating and managing these informational assets as parts of the overall corporate balance sheet, i.e., as well-cataloged, inventoried, and defined items
- Capitalizing on opportunities found via data analysis, such as targeting a specific age group or income level in a product marketing campaign
- Managing the risks associated with data retention and ensuring compliance with applicable rules and regulations
- Working with business intelligence solutions such as Microsoft Power BI, Birst, Yellowfin, and others to display data in interactive formats and gain valuable insights
- Serving as a bridge between the IT department and the other segments of an organization, ensuring that the right data analysis tools are available to everyone
Overall, a CDO oversees the technical and procedural aspects of data management. The popularity of this role is growing at a fast pace: Currently, 21% of the top 2,500 publicly traded companies have CDOs, almost half appointed just since 2019, according to the industry site CIO.
CDO vs. CIO: What’s the Difference?
A common point of confusion about the chief data officer role is the extent to which it is distinct from the similar title of chief information officer (CIO). The latter title has a longer history, having come to the forefront during the 1980s and 1990s as personal computers became fixtures of the modern workplace. There are a few key distinctions when it comes to CDO vs. CIO roles.
A CIO has a more technical position that is mostly restricted to the operations of the IT department. Responsibilities might include project management, executive oversight of security and networking services, and building relationships with specific service providers (e.g., a telecom or a software vendor).
In contrast, a CDO is more attuned to general business strategy than to such granular technical tasks. A CDO might go further than a CIO in realms such as working with a chief marketing officer, preparing reports, and participating in financial planning.
The CDO title is in some respects an evolution of its CIO predecessor, designed to extend the reach of data management to all departments in the organization, without dwelling only on IT-related issues. Even when a CDO does perform technical work, it is likely strictly concerned with data integration instead of the underlying details — such as networking and storage — that would be more within a CIO’s purview.
Chief Data Officer Salary
Data from Payscale indicates that the median annual chief data officer salary was approximately $176,700 as of April 2022, with the possibility for much higher compensation in the form of bonuses and profit sharing.
Organizations in highly regulated fields such as health care and finance are the most likely to have CDOs on staff, primarily to deal with legal requirements — such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act — that pertain to data retention and transmission.
Technology startups are also common homes for CDOs, since many of these companies work on data analytics and are dependent upon tools built for big data platforms like Hadoop. A CDO might take the lead there by hiring data scientists and working closely with a CIO.
At older firms with a lot of legacy technology (hardware and software that predate the era of cloud computing), a CDO might be brought on to clean up and integrate “broken” data that had previously been impossible to index, search, or integrate with other applications.
CDOs can find opportunities at organizations of all stripes. The responsibilities of a CDO may also be incorporated into, or shared with, other positions such as that of the CIO, or distributed across a company without anyone actually holding the title of CDO. The latter situation is common in organizations that have flat hierarchies or follow the principles of holacracy (self-management).
Becoming a Chief Data Officer
As a chief data officer, you can apply data-based principles to help a company make truly informed strategic decisions. You can also play a crucial collaborative role with other members of the C-suite leadership team.
In addition to experience, an advanced degree in a field like electrical or mechanical engineering can broaden your knowledge, open up career opportunities, and boost your earning potential as a CDO. Learn more about the online Master of Science in Engineering program at the University of California, Riverside and its Data Science specialization and discover how it can help you advance your career.