Is your data organization focused on the right areas? A new survey of chief data officers looks at how these data executives can enable success in their organizations by the projects they choose to prioritize.

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor

May 2, 2022

4 Min Read
A computer keyboard with white keys has a green key that says CDO chief data officer
momius via Adobe Stock Photos

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) who put their primary focus on meeting revenue-generation objectives and data monetization goals were more successful than CDOs who focused primarily on enablement projects such as data governance.

That’s among the findings of Gartner’s 7th annual survey of CDOs, conducted from September through November 2021 with 496 CDOs and other high-level data and analytics leaders globally.

While enablement projects such as data governance are considered table stakes, the CDOs who delivered the kind of revenue-generation, customer-serving value that digital organizations need today were the most successful, according to Gartner research VP Debra Logan.

“Governance is necessary, but not sufficient alone to get a program accepted,” Logan says. “You do have to continuously improve data quality, have a data quality, do things with better data -- but you need to be producing value alongside of that.”

Not only did the survey find that CDOs who emphasized value-generating projects were more successful, it also found that the gap between the successful CDOs and the non-successful CDOs is growing wider. Among the key findings of the report is “there is an increasingly sharp contrast between high and low performers, in terms of focus, emphasis, and behaviors.”

The top three objectives among the highest performing CDOs were improving decision-making capability (63%), meeting revenue generation goals (49%), and improving customer experience (49%).

Top performers are 10 times more likely to consider “innovation” a top enabler and two times more likely to consider “analytics/AI/ML” as a top enabler, whereas low performers consider governance, self-service D&A, and change management support as their top enablers.

The CDO Success Quadrants

Gartner segmented CDOs into four quadrants. The top right were CDOs that achieved both high organizational performance and high data and analytics effectiveness (35%). The bottom left were those with low organizational performance and low data and analytics effectiveness (12%).

The other two quadrants had different mixes of data and analytics effectiveness and organizational performance. The top left were those with medium to high organizational performance and low to medium data and analytics effectiveness (28%). The bottom right were those with low to medium organizational performance and medium to high data and analytics effectiveness (24%)

Organizational effectiveness was measured by criteria that included year-over-year revenue growth, innovative product or service development, the ability to attract and retain top talent, and promoting data sharing, among other criteria. Data and analytics effectiveness was measured by criteria including providing value to the organization, promoting a data-driven business style, consistently producing clear business value, and fostering data literacy, among other criteria.

Characteristics of Successful CDOs

Highly successful CDOs share some best practices. Here’s a look at a few of the activities and practices of successful CDOs.

  1. Higher performing CDOs are more than twice as likely to have active projects with their organization’s CEO, and they engage in value delivery rather than enablement, according to Gartner.

  2. The 17% of CDOs who report into the CEO are the most successful. Close to one-third of CDOs report into a technology function -- CIO or CTO -- but this reporting relationship did not correlate to greater success or lack of success, according to Gartner.

  3. CDOs who link data and analytics to prioritized and quantified business outcomes and metrics are more successful than those who do not do this, according to Gartner.

What Kind of CDO Are You?

Logan says CDOs normally fit into one of two different groups -- those who focus on data governance or enablement technology, and those who focus on analytics and value-driven business-facing technology.

“They either come from governance, compliance, risk, or they come from business intelligence and analytics,” Logan says. “Hardly anybody has done both.” What’s more, both are full-time jobs. “It’s rare to get somebody who has the intellectual and physical bandwidth to do both of those jobs.”

Organizations will typically hire the type of CDO that fits their vision for the role. But organizations that do focus on analytics as an enabler are more likely to be successful in this digital era, says Logan.

Changing Your Organization’s Success Trajectory

That’s not to say that data governance, in this age of data security breaches and data privacy regulations, can be left by the wayside. But CDOs who have focused their attention only in these areas would likely find greater success for their organizations by broadening the scope of their work.

“We tell them to go chase that stuff. Find a value-add. Go to the stakeholders, the lines of business,” to find a good candidate for an analytics project that can demonstrate business value, Logan says.

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About the Author(s)

Jessica Davis

Senior Editor

Jessica Davis is a Senior Editor at InformationWeek. She covers enterprise IT leadership, careers, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, and enterprise software. She has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology. Follow her on twitter: @jessicadavis.

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