5 Reasons Why CDOs May Ride the Next Wave of Leadership

Given all they contribute to today’s digital business landscape, chief data officers have a very real opportunity to become the CEOs of tomorrow.

Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary

December 6, 2019

4 Min Read
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Because of exponential data growth and use case potential, data -- not people -- has emerged as many organizations’ most prized possession. In a recent survey of nearly 1,000 IT directors across the US, UK and Germany, 77% of respondents said that data is now their organization’s most valuable asset. Still, the same survey found that 72% of organizations are unable to generate insights through the analysis of data. Despite recognizing data’s value and role in improved business performance, many organizations remain ill-equipped to deal with the data they currently have, let alone data silos that will inevitably continue to grow.

Gaining access to as much data as possible is an admirable goal: Without people who know how to process and make that data actionable, the full potential of data will never be realized. It’s for this reason that chief data officers (CDOs) have become so vital. By managing and using available data to improve business practices across an entire organization -- from finance and HR, to product development and marketing -- CDOs offer the ability to fundamentally transform business strategies. In fact, CDOs’ ability to intrinsically understand an organization’s business and plan for its future makes them ideal candidates for future CEOs.

For those who doubt data professionals’ potential beyond solely technical tasks, consider the following five reasons why CDOs are already transforming into legitimate business leaders:

  1. They’re responsible for the management and use of an organization’s most important asset -- data. More specifically, CDOs are focused on demystifying data and facilitating its employment at a functional level to realistically leverage data insights for additional revenue stream generation and improved business processes.

  2. The benefits of their strategy positively impact every function within the business. The most impactful CDOs may even go a step further, recruiting ‘data citizens’ across different departments to make the tactical use of data more entrenched across the organization. In doing so, they transform data from a confusing, gated asset into an open, useful tool accessible and actionable to everyone.

  3. The impact of effective data analytics is realized on the top line (revenue) and bottom line (cost reduction and efficiency). In addition to applying data analytics to improve business processes and add new revenue streams, CDOs can further monetize data intelligence by selling it to other businesses to help them improve their efficiencies (e.g. via customer demographics or new workflow recommendations).

  4. The CDOs need to have working knowledge of every function within the business. To deliver effectively, CDOs not only need to interpret data, they also need to be aware of all department heads’ needs, serve as problem solvers, and continually work to bridge the gap between objective stats and a company’s culture and values.

  5. They are true leaders with the ability to align an organization to their vision of data-driven business. Analyzing core data to determine how it can be used logically to improve business practices is undoubtedly key, but what makes CDOs even more crucial is their role in successfully selling the idea of data-driven change to stakeholders throughout an organization.

Success requires supporting CDOs’ expanded destiny

According to KPMG, organizations that have a CDO are twice as likely to have a clear digital strategy, and having a dedicated owner is essential for effective implementation of data use within an organization. What’s more, Forrester indicates that a CDO is present in 89% of organizations that have systematically harnessed data to improve their differentiation in the market and invested accordingly. Clearly CDOs are a critical component of modern business across nearly all sectors; however, the most innovative and forward-looking organizations are recognizing that the destiny of CDOs surpasses traditional role boundaries. Given all they contribute to today’s digital business landscape, CDOs have a very real opportunity to become the CEOs of tomorrow, and the onus is on organizations and their executive leadership to support them in this natural evolution.


Mathias Golombek joined Exasol in 2004 as software developer, led the database optimization team and became a member of the executive board in 2013. Although he is primarily responsible for the Exasol technology, his most important role is to build a great environment, where smart people enjoy building products. 

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