How to Become a CDO: Explore the Exciting Field of Data Leadership

How to Become a CDO: Explore the Exciting Field of Data Leadership | Data Science and Analytics | Emeritus

Did you know? Over 319 billion emails were sent around the globe in 2021. And, Google processes over 8.5 billion searches a day. It’s no wonder British mathematician Clive Humby termed data the new ‘oil’. Nearly every company today relies on data for its decision-making. This demand for data and those who can understand it has resulted in the creation of job titles that didn’t exist until a few decades ago, like the Chief Data Officer (CDO). What does it entail, and how to become a CDO? Let’s find out!

What is a CDO?

A CDO, is a C-suite-level executive who spearheads any organization’s data strategy and governance. Ideally, a CDO is an individual with a background in business and analytics who acts as a bridge between the technical and non-technical sides of the organization. For any data-driven business, the CDO is as important as a CEO. A 2022 survey by Boston-based NewVantage Partners shows that 74 per cent of the companies surveyed by them had appointed a chief data/analytics officer. The role of a CDO is complex and evolving, given the dynamics of dealing with data. 

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Where Do CDOs Come From?

The title of Chief Data Officer didn’t exist until a few years ago. Then, the handling of data and its security came under the purview of a chief information officer. The exponential rise in the volume of data and its value in business led to this title. According to Gartner, 63 per cent% of global chief data officers had prior experience in a data/analytics-related job. However, only 9 per cent% of CDOs come from an IT background. 

What Does a CDO Do?

A guide on how to become a CDO is incomplete without understanding the job description and responsibilities. Therefore, let’s look at everything a CDO does as part of their job role:

  • Leads the data strategy
  • Overlooks the company’s data governance, security, and privacy
  • Spearheads data-driven decision-making for the organization
  • Facilitates innovation and digital transformation within the organization  
  • Creates cognizance of data security, governance, and privacy within the organization
  • Safeguards the company’s data assets
  • Works closely with and often reports to the chief information officer.  
  • Builds a robust data ecosystem and inspires a data-driven culture

How to Become a CDO

Step 1: Get the Education You Need

Typically, a CDO should have a Ph.D. or a master’s degree in any data-related field, like data science or analytics, computer science, or statistics. However, along with a Ph.D. or Master’s, several experienced executives opt to undertake MBAs from elite universities or management programs to break into a C-suite role like that of a CDO. 

Step 2: Gain Necessary Experience

data science academyMost companies, including startups, expect individuals applying for CDO positions to have a minimum of 5-7 years of experience in the field. This can go up to 10-12 years of experience for larger companies. Given that it is a relatively new job title, the number of years may not matter as much as the depth and quality of your experience. Getting involved in and executing challenging projects adds significant value to your experience.

Step 3: Develop Leadership Skills

Chief data officers work with multiple teams across different channels, which requires them to possess exceptional leadership capabilities. One of the essential skills for any chief data officer is having excellent communication skills. As the common point across multi-functional teams, a CDO must communicate effectively with all invested parties. Additionally, C-suite executives must have empathy, critical and analytical thinking capabilities, and decision-making skills. These leadership skills can be developed over time with experience and acquired through learning.  

Step 4: Expand Your Influence

Networking is something all industry leaders and executives swear by, and rightfully so. Building the right connections can help you expand your knowledge and opportunities. Connecting with fellow industry experts and leaders is an excellent way to exchange ideas, learn about new changes in the market, and onboard expert individuals into your team. 

Step 5: Master People and Team Management Skills

A strong team goes a long way, especially when working in a complex and dynamic environment. A chief data officer will work with teams consisting of a diverse mix of people. Hence it’s imperative to learn the skill of managing large, diverse teams. Often, it’s easier to manage data than to manage people.

Step 6: Hone Your Data Analytics Skills

The foundation of a chief data officer’s role is deriving meaning from raw data. Therefore, as a CDO, you must have a deep and thorough understanding of data science and analytics. 

Step 7: Utilize the Connection Between Data Analytics and Business Performance

Any business that hires a CDO aims to improve its business performance. Processing chunks of raw data into a valuable output in decision-making is, broadly, the role of a chief data officer. This requires the CDO to have a deep understanding of the business, the threats & challenges it faces, and the targets set. Only then can a CDO successfully build a connection between his expertise and the business itself.  

What Teams Does a CDO Manage?

A chief data officer manages multiple teams across areas, from strategic data management to data governance and analytics. Recent trends forecast a chief data officer would soon need to work with artificial intelligence and machine learning for advanced and faster data processing. 

What Makes a CDO Successful?

To succeed as a CDO takes more than just being good with data and analysis: 

  1. Be data-focused to derive maximum meaning from raw data. 
  2. Build a bridge between data, business processes, and decisions to create a seamless customer experience and make informed business decisions.
  3. Be business-centric and analytically driven. 
  4. Effectively communicate with relevant stakeholders.

At Emeritus, we understand what it takes to be a CDO. Beyond the information in books and the internet, it is about learning from industry leaders and their experiences. We work with the world’s leading universities to build programs that will provide you with the right resources to chart your path toward professional success. Learn more about our portfolio of online leadership and data science courses here.

By Twisha Soni

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Content Marketing Manager, Emeritus Blog
Manasa is the content ninja that every brand needs. Apart from being an expert in tech-related trends and digital marketing, she has found her calling in edtech. Her 10-year-long tryst with education started with a teaching fellowship for underprivileged children, followed by a stint as an edupreneur. It gave her the perspective she now uses to create impactful content for Emeritus. Manasa loves the life of a digital nomad that allows her to travel and hopes her reels go viral on the Gram.
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