When the chief data officer (CDO) role began to pop up in C-suites in the early aughts at companies including Capital One and Yahoo, responsibilities centered on defense.
At the time, CDOs focused mainly on the safekeeping of data, especially in well-regulated fields like finance or healthcare. They were also entrusted with creating data processing infrastructure and enforcing standards on internal data-keeping policies.
Once seen as a simple data overseer, CDOs are emerging as more prominent C-suite figures, driven by increased modernization and wide adoption of analytics tools. Today, chief data officers play the offense, tying work to revenue and products as they arm companies with data-driven insights.
The new breed of CDO, Gartner analysts say, is focused on shaping data analytics offerings into products, which can ease adoption and accelerate iteration in an era where digital transformation leads the way.
Dubbed "CDO 4.0" by Gartner, the new generation of CDOs focuses more closely on business strategy.
"They care about solutions and how they can impact revenue," said Mario Faria, VP and program director at the Gartner Research Board, in an interview with CIO Dive. "Some CDOs are embracing a mentality of product management instead of process management."
This is letting data analytics, along with its potential benefits to efficiency, become more engrained into the daily flow of the modern workplace.
Despite increased interest in data analytics, execs will need to prove modernization strategies can pay off.
Felix Hoddinott, co-founder and chief analytics officer at Quantexa, believes a focus on return on investment proves crucial for today's CDOs.
"Projects that haven't been successful often focused on technical delivery as opposed to financial delivery," Hoddinott said, in an interview with CIO Dive. "ROI is the absolute key."
Closer ties to revenue
Enterprise leadership looks to the CDO to unlock the value of data analytics by giving companies an edge over competitors.
One-third of chief data officers report directly to CEOs, while 22% report to a chief technology officer of chief information officer, according to Gartner data.
"We're seeing [CDOs] step up their game," Faria said. "Their budget has increased in size as well as their team."
Traditional business strategies have become a baseline for companies, and data analytics has become the thing that allows players to differentiate themselves from competitors, said Aaron Kalb, CDO of data analytics company Alation, in an interview with CIO Dive.
"That's why we see CDOs being the brain of the company, and helping drive the direction of business alongside other leaders."
"That's why we see CDOs being the brain of the company, and helping drive the direction of business alongside other leaders," said Kalb, whose role involves services as a liaison between Alation and CDOs at client companies. "The CDO is getting a seat at the executive table."
Three key trends are also driving the importance of data analytics and its ties to revenue: Data analytics tools have become a part of daily workflows, they connect with more SaaS platforms and runs on more modern infrastructure than before, according to Looker CPO Nick Caldwell.
Turning data analytics into a product
In order to overcome adoption barriers, CDOs have turned to making data analytics a product, a strategy that lets end users move away from the complexity of data tools, and turn their attention to the insight these can provide, Faria said.
To get there, CDOs are choosing more agile workflows, which lets them adapt faster to evolutions in tech.
"They'll be able to accomplish goals faster as they break the work down in smaller pieces," Faria said. "With the use of product roadmaps they'll be able to deliver releases as they go. The cycle will be much shorter."
It also lets CDOs narrow their scope. Instead of delivering 20 projects in a year, execs simplify that process by breaking those projects down into products.