CDO - what is that?
In the changing world of job titles

Go back 25 years and organisations had IT Directors and Heads of IT (Heaven forbid, there may even have been a Head of DP knocking about). Now it’s more common to find the sorts of things they did performed by C level equivalents such as the CTO (Chief Technical Officer or Chief Technology Officer), the CIO (Chief Information Officer), the CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) and, more rarely, the CAA (Chief Applications Architect) and the CQO (Chief Quality Officer).

To that list we can add CDO. But not just one CDO. There are two completely different roles using this acronym and both are increasing in popularity.

Comes the CDO: Chief Data Officer

This CDO Is responsible for all things data in the corporation, such as data governance, data mining, data protection, data analytics, data processing, data enrichment, and data whatever-you-like. With the rise of the importance of big data and dark data and the potential of generating new revenue streams from data, this role is appearing in a growing number of organisations. For example, over 25% of the Fortune 500 now have a Chief Data Officer. A high profile example of this type of CDO is JP Rangaswami, the former chief scientist as Salesforce.com and CIO at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, who was appointed to this role at Deutsche Bank last November.

And the CDO: Chief Digital Officer

The combination of social media, cloud, mobile and data are having a big impact on how businesses interact with their customers. Research and development, customer support and sales and marketing are particularly affected by these changes, as organisations move to take advantage of new digital opportunities. The role of the Chief Digital Officer is to lead this change. An example of this type of CDO is Andrew Brem, the former Managing Director (Commercial & Product Development) at British Gas, who was appointed to this role at Aviva last August.

But which is the real CDO?

Both these roles are relatively new. Will they persist? Is one, or even both, of these roles a short term fad? For example, Gartner puts a strong case for the rise of the Chief Digital Officer, whereas Forrester thinks that job title may not see out 2015. What if the situation arises where you get both CDO’s in the same company; which would be THE CDO? Maybe it has already happened. Maybe there is a sitcom, in development, exploiting this confusion for massive comedic effect. Or maybe this is the point where Alan Davies holds up the elephant on QI because nobody knows.

As companies evolve to meet the needs of their environments, the way they organise and the responsibilities and focus of the leadership will change too. So it follows that job titles will continue to change. At the start of the twentieth century, you would find the CEO in many organisations was the Chief Electricity Officer. That role has gone the way of floppy disks, video rental stores and gong farmers. These roles may well go the same way or they may see off some of the C level titles mentioned at the start of the article. Who knows, in the future, when we meet the CTO, we may be meeting the Chief Testing Officer.

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