All in the Data: Becoming a CDO When There is No Role

I work with a lot of organizations that do not (yet) have a person in the role of Chief Data Officer (CDO) or Chief Data and Analytics Officer (CDAO). I also work with a significant number of people in these organizations who have the desire to be elevated into one of these roles. The latter is the subject of this column. It’s all in the data.

The top data position within the organization may hold other titles as well, including c-level (or non-c-level) positions focused on analytics alone, digital transformations, insights, and data strategy. There are still organizations that recognize their Chief Information Officer (CIO) as the top data role, but that number is decreasing year by year.

Those aspiring to be CDOs or CDAOs but facing organizational resistance may grow frustrated due to the missed chance to drive data-focused transformation, harness analytics, and have a meaningful impact on the organization’s success. They feel limited by the organization’s limited vision, lack of understanding about data’s value, and inability to lead data-driven initiatives. This frustration arises from their passion for data, belief in analytics’ transformative potential, and desire to drive innovation through data-driven decision-making.

If the CDO or CDAO role does not exist in your organization, but you are a firm believer that one of these roles is necessary, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of convincing leadership of the need for such a role:

Articulate Challenges in Your Current Data Landscape

Conduct a thorough assessment of your organization’s current data challenges, data capabilities, data infrastructure, and data governance practices. Identify any gaps, challenges, and missed opportunities resulting from the absence of a dedicated data leadership role.

By articulating the challenges in your data landscape based on business terms, you can articultae gaps, limitations, and missed opportunities resulting from the lack of a dedicated data leadership role. Communicating these challenges demonstrates your understanding of data management complexities and ability to lead data-driven initiatives. It strengthens your case for the need of a CDO or CDAO role and your suitability for it.

Research Industry Best Practices

Gather information on how other organizations, especially competitors or industry leaders, have benefited from having a CDO or CDAO. Collect case studies, success stories, and statistics that demonstrate the positive impact of data-driven decision-making and analytics in improving business outcomes.

Researching industry best practices lets you gather evidence and success stories from other organizations to demonstrate the positive impact of a CDO or CDAO role. By showcasing how data-driven decision-making and analytics have improved business outcomes and gained a competitive advantage, you position yourself as a valuable asset capable of driving similar results in your organization.

Align with Organizational Goals

Clearly articulate how a top data role aligns with the organization’s strategic goals and objectives. Emphasize the potential for data-driven insights to enhance operational efficiency, drive innovation, improve customer experience, and increase revenue or cost savings.

Aligning with organizational goals enables you to showcase how a CDO or CDAO role is essential by clearly demonstrating how data-driven insights and analytics can directly contribute to achieving strategic objectives such as improving operational efficiency, enhancing customer experience, driving innovation, or increasing revenue, thus positioning yourself as a valuable asset in driving the organization’s success.

Develop a Business Case

Build a compelling business case that outlines the potential return on investment (ROI) and the value proposition of creating a CDO or CDAO position. Quantify the benefits in terms of increased revenue, reduced costs, improved decision-making, risk mitigation, and competitive advantage. Highlight the potential risks of not having dedicated data leadership in a data-driven business landscape.

Developing a business case quantifies the return on investment and value of a CDO or CDAO role. By outlining benefits like increased revenue, cost reduction, improved decision-making, risk mitigation, and competitive advantage, you provide tangible evidence of its impact on organizational success. This approach assures that you present business benefits that are measurable (and not too aspirational) that convinces leadership of the role’s necessity and positions you as the candidate to drive data-driven transformation and deliver measurable results.

Educate and Engage Leadership

Schedule meetings or presentations with key decision-makers and stakeholders. Clearly articulate the need for a top data role, explain the role’s responsibilities and scope, and demonstrate how it can address the organization’s current data challenges and unlock new opportunities. Provide evidence from your research and be prepared to address any concerns or objections they may have.

Educating and engaging leadership effectively communicates the need for a CDO or CDAO role by explaining responsibilities, scope, and potential value. By presenting evidence, addressing concerns, and showcasing understanding of data challenges, you build a compelling case. This engagement fosters support, raises awareness, and positions you as a capable leader, making a strong argument for establishing the role and your suitability to fill it.

Start Small and Build Momentum

If the leadership is hesitant to create a dedicated CDO or CDAO position immediately, propose a pilot project or a smaller-scale initiative to showcase the value of data and analytics. Implement a proof of concept or a data-driven project that demonstrates tangible results and measurable impact. This can help build support and momentum for a dedicated data leadership role.

Starting small and building momentum demonstrates the value of data-driven initiatives through pilot projects or smaller-scale efforts. By showcasing tangible results and measurable impact, you provide evidence of the positive outcomes a CDO or CDAO role can deliver. This approach builds support, gains leadership buy-in, and paves the way for scaling up data-driven initiatives, solidifying the case for the role’s necessity and your ability to drive transformative change.

Collaborate with Stakeholders

Engage with various departments and teams within the organization to understand their data-related pain points and requirements. Seek input from executives, IT, marketing, finance, operations, and other relevant stakeholders to build a broader consensus on the need for a top data role.

Collaborating with stakeholders gathers input and perspectives from different departments, fostering consensus on the need for a CDO or CDAO role. Understanding their data-related challenges and needs helps tailor arguments and proposals. This collaborative approach builds credibility, demonstrates teamwork skills, and positions you as an effective driver of data-driven initiatives, gaining stakeholder support and strengthening the case for the role’s necessity and your suitability for it.

Leverage External Expertise

If possible, bring in external experts or consultants who specialize in data governance — hint 🙂 —, data management, analytics, or digital transformation. Their insights and experience can provide an objective perspective and lend credibility to your arguments.

Leveraging external expertise allows you to bring in specialized knowledge and insights from data governance, data management, analytics, or digital transformation professionals, bolstering your arguments and lending credibility to the need for a CDO or CDAO role. By tapping into the experiences and success stories of industry experts, you can provide objective perspectives and demonstrate the widespread adoption and benefits of such a role. This external validation strengthens your case, enhances your credibility, and positions you as someone well-equipped to drive data-driven transformation, convincing leadership of the necessity of the role and your capabilities to excel in it.

Network and Benchmark

Attend industry conferences, seminars, and networking events to connect with professionals in similar roles or organizations that have successfully implemented a CDO or CDAO function. Learn from their experiences, gather insights, and leverage benchmarking data to strengthen your case.

Networking and benchmarking allow you to connect with professionals who have implemented CDO or CDAO roles successfully. Attending conferences and events helps you learn from their experiences, gain insights, and gather benchmarking data to strengthen your case. This external perspective showcases your knowledge and positions you as a credible candidate for the role, ultimately convincing leadership of the necessity of a CDO or CDAO position and your qualifications for it.

Continually Iterate and Adapt

Be open to feedback and continuously refine your arguments based on the organization’s evolving needs and priorities. Be persistent and patient, as organizational change can take time. Keep building relationships, fostering collaboration, and demonstrating the value of data-driven initiatives.

Continually iterating and adapting your arguments based on evolving needs demonstrates flexibility and responsiveness. By remaining open to feedback, refining proposals, and adjusting approaches, you show commitment to finding effective strategies for data-driven success. This positions you as someone capable of navigating complexity, overcoming obstacles, and driving meaningful outcomes. It reinforces the case for a CDO or CDAO role and solidifies your position as a qualified candidate.


Aspiring CDOs or CDAOs in organizations without these roles may feel frustrated due to missed opportunities for data-driven transformation and leveraging analytics. They can convince leadership by understanding the data landscape, researching best practices, aligning with goals, developing a business case, educating leadership, starting small, collaborating with stakeholders, leveraging external expertise, networking, and adapting their arguments. These steps increase their chances of establishing a CDO or CDAO role and unlocking data-driven decision-making value within their organizations. It’s all in the data.

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Robert S. Seiner

Robert S. Seiner

Robert (Bob) S. Seiner is the President and Principal of KIK Consulting & Educational Services and the Publisher Emeritus of The Data Administration Newsletter. Seiner is a thought-leader in the fields of data governance and metadata management. KIK (which stands for “knowledge is king”) offers consulting, mentoring and educational services focused on Non-Invasive Data Governance, data stewardship, data management and metadata management solutions. Seiner is the author of the industry’s top selling book on data governance – Non-Invasive Data Governance: The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success (Technics Publications 2014) and the followup book - Non-Invasive Data Governance Strikes Again: Gaining Experience and Perspective (Technics 2023), and has hosted the popular monthly webinar series on data governance called Real-World Data Governance (w Dataversity) since 2012. Seiner holds the position of Adjunct Faculty and Instructor for the Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College Chief Data Officer Executive Education program.

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