Five Strategies to set up the Chief Data Officer (CDO) for Failure

Pradeep Menon
4 min readApr 14, 2021


The Chief Data Officer (CDO) role is the newly minted role in the CXO pantheon. More than 68% of Fortune 500 companies have reported having the CDO role. This role is expected to live up to the expectation of a slogan that is used a zillion times: “Data is the new oil.”

There are great expectations with the CDO role. However, CDO’s success is peppered with impediments. In a lot of organizations, they are set for failure even before the CDO joins the organization. Let us look at five strategies that can set the CDO for failure.

Strategy #1: Classify the CDO as a technology role

CDO deals with data, and it may be tempting to let the CDO take care of all the data-related technology. CDO typically is from a technology background. Limiting the CDO’s role in managing the Data Warehouses, reporting data marts, and being responsible for its overall data architecture may seem to be a meaty role.

However, classifying the CDO role as a technology role is the first strategy to set up the CDO for failure. Classifying the CDO as a technology role constraints the vision of the role. It ensures that the role is bogged down by the operational aspects of data.

For CDO’s role to be successful, it should be broader and more strategic.

Strategy #2: Align the CDO under the CIO/CTO role

The correct placement of the CDO role is essential. Coupled with the first strategy, aligning the CDO role under the CTO/CIO is the second strategy for setting the CDO for failure. The typical thought process in aligning the CDO role under the CIO/CTO role is that there are many technological elements in the CDO role. Data is stored in different types of databases and files all over the organization. Data transformation includes using tools and processes that are under the purview of the CTO. As such, it makes logical sense to roll the CDO under the CIO/CTO.

CDO role is not just a technology role. For CDO to be successful, its mandate should include technology, business, and organizational change management. Under the CTO/CIO role, the CDO role will have limited leverage to influence the business. Budgets will roll down from the CTO office, and investing in data will be an afterthought. The CTO/CIO has a lot of operational projects to prioritize.

For the CDO role to be successful, it should have an independent mandate and budget.

Strategy #3: Separate CDO and CAO roles

There is another role in the mix of things — The Chief Analytics Officer (CAO). Data is CDO’s purview, and analytics is the CAO’s purview. The rationale is that having separate roles will help both of them to focus on their respective roles and add value to the business.

Although a novel idea, separating CDO and CAO role is the third strategy to set the CDO for failure. The value of data is measured through how fast it can be converted to insight. Data feed analytics, and analytics thrives on data. They can’t be separated. They are Siamese twins. No matter how good your data strategy is, it will not yield business benefit unless data is turned into insights through the prudent application of analytics. Limiting the CDO’s role to just focus on data makes the measurement of impact difficult, if not impossible.

For the CDO role to be successful, analytics/AI should be part of the CDO’s mandate.

Strategy #4: Make the CDO accountable for too many KPIs

It is pivotal to ensure that CDO’s performance is measured appropriately. With the new role with the word “Chief” before “Data,” the organization is tempted to measure the CDO’s performance on multiple KPIs. The organization’s data estate is in a mess. It needs to be streamlined, and the quality of data needs improvement. Business stakeholders are not getting timely insights, and data to insight turnover time needs to be faster. The problems are myriad and numerous.

Making CDO accountable for too many KPIs is the fourth strategy to set the CDO for failure. Making the CDO responsible for too many KPIs will make the role lose focus on its crucial responsibility area: Making the organization more data-driven.

For the CDO role to be successful, limit the number of KPIs on which the CDO will be measured.

Strategy #5: Create a data-only focus for the CDO

It is tempting to view the CDO role with a data-only lens. The CDO’s mandate focuses on making the organization more data-driven, bringing agility into insights, and ensuring that data is used effectively in the decision-making process. However, a critical organizational aspect that seems to be missing is the role of culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. No matter how effective the strategy is, no matter how efficient its execution is, without a focus on changing the organization’s culture, any progress made will fall like a house of cards. Having the CDO focus only on data is the fifth strategy to set up the role for failure.

For the CDO role to be truly successful, it needs to be a change agent. The role needs to have an influence on how people work, collaborate, and use insights effectively. The role needs to be a catalyst in changing the organization’s culture to make it more data-driven.

For the CDO role to be successful, the role should influence change the cultural aspects of the organization.


  1. Rethinking The Role of Chief Data Officer
  2. Are You Asking Too Much of Your Chief Data Officer?
  3. Gartner Predicts by 2023, 50% of Chief Digital Officers in Organizations Without a Chief Data Officer (CDO) Should Become the De Facto CDO to Ensure Success



Pradeep Menon

Creating impact through Technology | #CTO at #Microsoft| Data & AI Strategy | Cloud Computing | Design Thinking | Blogger | Public Speaker | Published Author