essential characteristics of a successful cdo

10 Essential Characteristics of a Successful CDO

CDOs today are tasked with creating more business value from their organization’s data assets than ever before. With that in mind, there are several key characteristics that most CDOs possess that make them successful. In what follows read more about the essential characteristics of successful CDOs as well as how to emulate them.

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Fact-based, data-driven

The days of basing decisions based solely on experience and gut instinct are gone. Without facts that are based on data, all you really have are opinions. The CDO is now the leader of the vanguard of this new data-driven corporate culture. As a CDO, you should champion fact-based, data-driven analysis your organization.

Curious about the business

In order for CDOs to be successful, they need to be curious about the business. This means that they need to spend time figuring out how a business operates and makes money and its drivers of cost, revenue, and customer satisfaction. Conversely, CDOs need to be willing to dig into the details through the lens of data and analytical models to better understand the business.


A CDO doesn’t necessarily have to be the smartest data scientist in the company building the most sophisticated models, but they do need to understand and appreciate what those people do and how they do it. They also need to know how to leverage those people who are building complex models and dealing with complex technologies as part of their daily roles.

It also doesn’t hurt to have built some of your own models (e.g., financial, marketing, and/or econometric models) so that you have an understanding of the model development process and how those models are deployed to production. There are also a lot of discussions happing in the industry now about combining Chief Data Officer and Chief Analytics Officer roles into one role, hence emphasizing analytics.

Business-value focused

Given the scale and complexity of data in large enterprises, it is very easy to get tangled up in technology and “boil the ocean” type efforts (like Master Data Management, for example). As a CDO, you need to figure out what value you can deliver to the business in the next week, next month, and next quarter—not next year. Working towards regular deliveries, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, will solidify your mandate and deliver value more quickly to the rest of the organization. Timely progress is more important than a “big bang” of annual deliveries.

Strategic, tactical data experience

Data and analytics must be a salient part of the company’s strategy and day-to-day tactical operations. As a CDO, this means that you need to understand the strategy and figure out how data and analytics can be used as levers to not only achieve but to also adapt the company’s strategy as a part of its digital transformation.

Partners with tech/data leaders

As a CDO, you need to source and build relationships with your business partners who are the most adept and aggressive at using data like those in marketing, finance, and/or supply chain. These relationships will become useful as you seek to implement new data-driven initiatives in your organization. Furthermore, technology is a huge enabler of data so you must have a trust-based, symbiotic relationship with the CIO. Otherwise, your efforts will be impeded on a practical basis.

Change agent using data

Data, coupled with analytics, is disruptive: data invalidates outdated, long-held assumptions that are wrong. Data also often uncovers inconvenient truths, points out glaring inefficiencies, and uncovers unforeseen opportunities. The CDO can be a catalyst for change and digital transformation, but they should do so in a politically astute way so as to not upset the powers that be. A key to this is illustrating how data benefits departments, divisions, and product lines, to improve performance.

Strong communication

The most effective CDOs are great storytellers. They grab the attention of decision-makers by making bold statements, backed up by facts based on data, and in terms and language that executives can understand. I often start a pitch presentation with bold statements like, “What if I told you we could, for example, decrease our $6B annual raw materials bill by 1% with a $400K investment?” or “increase sales 20% through customer segment targeting?” These types of bold statements grab the attention of executives and engage them in a dialogue about data.

IT savvy

As a CDO, you must be comfortable with technology. In addition, you cannot be daunted by technical complexity. Again, you are not necessarily the most technical person on your team, but you must be able to ask the right questions and understand what technical staff are saying about technology like platform choices and approaches. You must also be able to make judgment calls and manage technical risk. technology is a key enabler for data.

Comfortable with delivery execution & PM

As a CDO, you will be responsible for delivering data solutions. There is considerable complexity involved regarding timelines, deliverables, milestones, budgets, and delivery execution. Most IT projects fail to satisfy one or more of scope, timeline, and budget—data and analytics projects are no different. You want to avoid that fate as much as possible.

These top ten characteristics for successful CDOs are just some of the most important to achieve success in your role. Learn more about what sets digitally transformative leaders apart and watch our webinar to learn even more tips on how to succeed as a CDO.