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The ultimate career goal of a Data Scientist or any other person in the Data industry would be to become a CDO – Chief Data Officer. But is it really that interesting to become one? Is the role of the CDO still relevant nowadays? Let me dig a bit into the role and how it has evolved and outline the facts on why I believe that this role will – sooner or later – become irrelevant

The Chief Data Officer at the board level

Whenever we talk about a C-role, it would imply that this person is a board member. In my past and my own career, I have however not seen any CDO being a real board member. In fact, most of the time the “CDO” was either reporting to the board or several hierarchical levels underneath it. So in all cases, the “C” should be removed from the job title per se. In my recent jobs, I had the full job description of a CDO, reported to the board and dealt with the data topic on a group-wide basis of the company. However, my job title was always “Head of Data”, rather than adding the C to my title (since, again, I wasn’t part of the board). My personal opinion is that anyway the data topic shouldn’t be on a board level – it should be in ALL business departments.

A central function for a decentralised job

One of the key aspects, why the Chief Data Officer might become irrelevant is the basic nature of Data: Data is always decentral, produced in business departments and used in these departments. A central function for data will never be fast enough to catch up with the demands around data. This leads to the question on why a central department might be relevant? Or will it still be relevant at all?

One key consideration is, if the job brings any benefits to the company, if installed. Most CDOs I knew used to focus on analytical use-cases. But this is definitely something that needs to be done in the business departments. With the data mesh, not only using data but also preparing data (e.g. data engineering as a task) would rather be embedded in business functions than in centralised functions. So several functions, that a Chief Data Officer would carry out get decentralised. But what will stay for the Chief Data Officer?

The Chief Data Officer as central Data Governance and Architecture steering

However, there is still plenty of work left for a “Chief Data Officer”. The main tasks of this function or person will center around the following items:

  • Data Governance: steer all decentral projects into common standards and raise awareness for data quality
  • Data Architecture: ensure a common data architecture and set standards for decentral functions, alongside the data governance standards
  • Drive a data driven culture: Gather the decentral community within an organisation and ensure that the organisation learns and constantly improves in this topic. Become a catalyst for innovation in the data topic

There are some aspects that such a function should not do:

  • Data Engineering: Data Engineering should either be done in IT (if it is source centric) or in business departments (but rather on a limited scale, focused on DataOps!) if it is pipeline centric (and supporting data scientists)
  • Data Science: This should entirely be done in the business

As we can see, there are a lot of things that a “CDO” should still do. However, the function would rather focus on securing the base, not creating value in the business cases per se. But this might not be entirely true: if there is nobody that takes care of governance and a proper architecture, there is no chance to create value in the business. So it is a very important role to have in organisations. Will this role be called a “Chief Data Officer”? Probably not, but people like titles, so it will stay 😉