CDO – Relating to the rest of the C suite

Authors: Caroline Carruthers, Chief Data Officer Network Rail, and Peter Jackson, Head of Data Southern Water

There are more C suite roles than there used to be, the long established roles of Chief Executive and Chief Information Officer now have to compete for room at the table with roles like the Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Digital Officer and of course the Chief Data Officer – it’s getting a bit crowded around the table.

Relationship building is a key skill for the CDO as working with the data means you are cutting across the silos in the organisation therefore potentially messing in everyone's back yard so you better be able to ask nicely before you do or have some air cover for when an areas feels pain for the greater good!

Whilst the CDO needs to form a working relationship with any other stakeholders in the company, not just the rest of the C-suite the one that causes the most concern is the Chief Information Officer (or CTO), it definitely generates the most questions at conferences.

The difference between a CIO and CDO (apart from the words data and information…) is best described using the bucket and water analogy. The CIO is responsible for the bucket, ensuring that it is complete without any holes in it, the bucket is the right size with just a little bit of spare room but not too much and its all in a safe place. The CDO is responsible for the liquid you put in the bucket, ensuring that it is the right liquid, the right amount and that’s not contaminated. The CDO is also responsible for what happens to the liquid, and making the clean vital liquid is available for the business to slake its thirst.

If you have a CIO who is responsible for both, then you are doing great and you probably don’t need a CDO as well however it’s a really big role to cover both, and in the past lots of organisations assumed the CIO was doing both while the CIO assumed the business was accountable for the data – hence leading to some of the problems we are facing now. Just remember what happens when you assume anything!

The other role that it’s important for the CDO to relate to is the Chief Executive. By tucking the CDO under other roles like the CIO it becomes tangled up with the technology. This just confuses the business who have a hard enough time sorting through the difference between looking after the data and information and looking after the tools you use to look after the data and information.

Where the business places the CDO also demonstrates to the rest of the organisation how much you value your data, placing it so far from the Chief Executive that you can see too much daylight between the CEO and CDO isn’t really telling anyone that you value your information. However we’re not suggesting that it’s the most important role in the organisation either, just that you need to strike a balance that works for your organisation.

If you place getting value high on your agenda then that should reflect where you put your CDO as it helps with the reach across the business, if your major focus is risk adverse then perhaps your governance or technical authority function is the right place for you.

The onset of GDPR has made one other relationship outside of the C suite of rising importance to the CDO. This is the relationship with the DPO. Both the DPO and the CDO may be new to an organisation, so there is perhaps the double whammy of two previously unknown roles at the table who at the same time will be trying to work out their own new working relationship. However, both being ‘data’ professionals and understanding the value and importance of data, they should be close allies and a strong and consistent voice to their C suite colleagues.

So in a nutshell relationship building is a key part of being a CDO!

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