Chief Data Officers: The Four Superpowers You’ll Need to Be a Rockstar CDO

Chief Data Officers: The Four Superpowers You’ll Need to Be a Rockstar CDO

CxO titles are proliferating, and one that’s earning much-deserved respect is Chief Data Officer (CDO). The role of the CDO is to build the greatest amount of value from an organization’s data assets. As enterprises increasingly recognize the potential power of data, they look to the CDO to be the alchemist who turns data lead into intelligence gold.

Much of the CDO’s alchemy is based in technology. But mastery of the technical aspects of the data transformation is table stakes. As I learned in my former roles as CDO of the Commonwealth of Virginia and CDO for the Federal Transit Administration, if you want to be a truly transformative CDO, you also need to hone your skills influencing people, improving processes, and changing culture. In particular, an effective CDO must exhibit the following four traits:

1. A Truly Strategic Perspective

To be an effective CDO, you need the data acumen to meet your organization’s operational needs. But data acumen isn’t just about the technologies that support data-driven decision-making. It also includes a deep understanding of and a vision for how your organization’s data can support and advance its mission.

Your organization’s processes generate vast amounts of data every day. You must guide the evolution of that output from data to information to intelligence. The goal is to deliver insights that support the right decisions and result in the right actions.

That decision-making isn’t limited to the C-suite. Team members at the tactical and operational levels also need actionable intelligence. You must be able to integrate disparate data assets in new and meaningful ways. The result should be an ability to clearly quantify the relationship between the services the enterprise provides and the outcomes stakeholders experience. Through your guidance, the organization should be able to precisely tune its services to generate the most desirable outcomes.

2. Prodigious Interpersonal Skills

You’re accountable for your organization’s data systems, but you aren’t the owner of those systems. The actual owners typically are those responsible for organizational units and their processes. What’s more, the gatekeepers to those systems are typically some combination of Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and IT director.

How do you increase the value of those data outputs? By systematically building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with key individuals throughout the organization. You need to continually facilitate awareness, understanding, access, dissemination, and integration of data across the enterprise to benefit decision-makers.

That doesn’t happen without your active engagement with data owners, business analysts, IT professionals, and data stewards. And you can’t sustain that engagement through mandates and rules. Rather, you must develop meaningful relationships guided by a common interest in leveraging data to improve stakeholder outcomes.

3. An Unfailing Ability to Build Trust

To build value from information, your organization must share data across functions. But data sharing doesn’t happen without trust. In your CDO role, you must leverage the relationships you build to channel their collective energy into cultivating trust that will result in effective data governance.

Building trust encourages all stakeholders to share data, participate in data governance and generate actionable intelligence. It breaks down organizational silos that slow operations and erode effectiveness. Those trust-based actions lead to a virtuous cycle of continual data enrichment. Data-driven insights and service enhancements then iteratively generate better data and better services.

4. Uncanny Resourcefulness

As CDO, you may report to the Chief Operations Officer (COO), Chief Administration Officer (CAO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), or sometimes the CIO. You typically play an advisory role, with little or no staff support of your own. Consequently, you need to figure out how to address the data and intelligence needs of your organization without the help of a dedicated team.

That calls for exceptional resourcefulness and a collaborative spirit. You need to capitalize on your cross-functional relationships to share the burden of your office. You must find ways to jointly benefit from existing technological, financial and human resources, and you must nurture partnerships with internal and external organizations. The way to achieve those goals is by discovering shared objectives and working toward mutually beneficial collaborations.

Your job as a CDO requires a high degree of technical proficiency to get data flowing throughout your organization. But equally important are your abilities to think strategically, engage disparate stakeholders and foster collaboration. While you need to understand which technologies your organization should invest in and how it should deploy those capabilities, you ultimately must guide the people, process and cultural changes that will produce the greatest value from your data assets.