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The curious incident of the CDOs that didn’t bark

David Reed, DataIQ’s chief knowledge officer and evangelist, provides his thoughts on what can be done to re-bolster the status of data in organisations.

So why have many companies downshifted the status of data in this way? Is it a temporary phase or part of a longer-term shift in emphasis?

Brace yourself: I believe much of the blame for this dilution of data’s status lies with CDOs themselves. Having spent a large part of the last month in detailed conversations with senior data leaders about the challenges they are facing, these key issues have become clear to me.

  1. CDOs feel exposed as a cost centre, especially in the current financial climate. In response, they are looking to move to a federated model as this helps to hide resource and align data closer to points of value creation. This is clearly a cyclical response and can be highly effective. But it can also dilute the status and power of the data office by emphasising its role as a servant, rather than a leader of business innovation.
  2. CDOs have a problem with legacy analysts and stakeholders – incumbents with long tenure who do not want to upskill or change their ways of working, but are still too young to retire. Sacking is not an option for those within the data office as they are not technically under-performing, it would cost too much and it would also put headcount below the establishment level when there is a freeze on new hires. Seemingly the only effective approach is to keep these resistors on the sidelines and bore them out of their roles.
  3. CDOs are poor and are using their political capital to protect R&D/learning time for their reports. Often, these team members say they have too much BAU to deal with and cannot spare the time for learning, training, experimenting or even getting out to events. Yet the CDOs complaining of this aren’t intervening with stakeholders to push back deadlines or ring fence this time. Which brings us to:
  4. A real problem CDOs have is a blind spot about themselves. Few recognise or even understand the need to develop themselves and their leadership skills, let alone having budget for this. Generally, they present weak leadership abilities and place too much emphasis on delivering data tech projects. No wonder they are losing out to CIOs.

To listen to many senior data leaders, the problems they have with politics, reporting lines, budget or talent are things that happen to them, rather than things that they can make happen.

Only by learning to bark can the position of CDO avoid being swallowed.

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