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Where Should the CDO Report into?

Dale Stevens

26 March 2019

by Dale Stevens

( Words)

​Where does the Chief Data Officer sit in an organisation? This is a question we're often asked by clients and candidates, some believing it has the potential to define the success (or otherwise) of the role.

Gartner Research

Gartner recently described the CDO "one of the toughest seats at the executive table." A recent survey found that more than half of CDOs report into a business leader (as opposed to tech leader) ie. CEO, CFO, COO NOT CTO CDigitalO OR CIO.

They also found that:

• 71% of CDOs are acting as thought leaders on emerging digital models and helping to create the digital business vision for the enterprise;
• 77% are developing data and analytics solutions to help the business compete in new ways;
• 60% are assessing external opportunities and threats as input to business strategy.

Our Survey

With this in mind, we carried out a LinkedIn survey of my network to find out where people believed the CDO should report into.

Over 30,000 views and 90 comments from people in the data space produced the following results:

• CEO - 23
• CTO - 2
• CFO - 4

• CIO - 1
• COO - 3
• Depends - 6

A few comments from thought-leaders:
"It depends very much on what the company thinks data is primarily for and how and what value expectation there is. But it seems there is consensus that whoever it is, it should be someone who understands the value in data and is willing and capable of using their position in the business to get buy in and drive adoption."

"Ask the CEO, CIO and the CTO what they expect from the role, and ask the candidate CDO what they see as their key challenges. If it is aligned, it makes sense to have CDO report to the CTO. There are a few companies where that makes sense. However, for the vast majority of companies, CTO have started their career long before data changed the mindset of tech & product development."

"Does the organisation have an enterprise data strategy? Does the organization have a plan for analytics, or are they developing an analytics / data science/ big data program? How central is data to transformed company and how far does the organisation have to go to get to their vision? The answer to these questions should help determine where the chief data officer sites. The more central data is and the more transformation the business needs to undertake, the closer to the CEO the role should be the CDO's role is to educate and advocate for the centrality of data."

"It depends on incumbent leaders, their skills, their flexibility, their power base, their evangelical or inflexible natures.
For a truly data-centric organisation it can only be reporting to the CEO, partnering and enabling the other CXOs to deliver on their accountabilities depends on the maturity of the org and the CEO. But whom [s]he reports to is less important than the communications from and within the C suite that give the position its authority and influence within the organization."
"There is still a lack of understanding from CXO roles as to what a CDO role should encompass. This in itself effects the perceived placement of the role. Anything other than reporting to the CEO will hamstring the role as the CDO should be peers with the rest of the C suite."
"How does it align with the CTO, CFO, COO or CEO remits? Is the company sufficiently technically sophisticated so it could report into CEO? Or does it need the umbrella (or partnership) of a CTO to help make sense of its reporting? It must be the CEO. Otherwise, don't call the role the "CDO".
"We've had the same conversations about the CISO. Reporting line doesn't define success, in particular at senior levels. There are so many variables, as to why a particular approach will suit certain companies and there is no wrong answer."