CDO: You Say Chief Digital Officer, I Say Chief Data Officer

There’s a tidal wave of data-related jobs rolling in these days, from data scientists and data analysts to CDOs and CDOs. No, that’s not a typo; I’m just using the same acronym for chief data officer and chief digital officer. Given the growth in data jobs, it shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise that two different executive-level roles have emerged which go by the same three letters.

So what’s the difference? Or is there one?

I thought it would be helpful to dive into this topic to try to bring some sharper definition to the discussion. It’s hard enough keeping up with information about the growth of data, jobs related to data and ways to use data to generate business value without adding unnecessary confusion about the terminology we use.

What I’ve learned is that there seem to be clear differences between the roles of chief data officer and chief digital officer, and that each one has a distinct contribution to make in today’s data-driven business culture.

Chief Data Officer: Managing Data as a Corporate Asset

Given the staggering amounts of data that are being generated today, the need for an executive-level role to oversee the management of an organization’s data seems obvious. Gartner, which has determined that there are more than 100 people with the specific job title of chief data officer serving in large enterprises today, defines the role as helping manage data as a corporate asset.

Managing data as a corporate asset means being responsible for how companies use and extract value from data, including how they protect data privacy and maintain compliance with laws related to data integrity and accessibility. Information Week last year identified several specific mandates for chief data officers related to driving data value, based on a recent IBM survey of people in this role.

• Data sharing, collaboration, reuse and openness

• Compliance and security

• Efficient management of scarce resources

• Identifying new sources of data

Chief Digital Officer: Overseeing the Transition to a Digital World

While the chief data officer deals with data as a business asset, the chief digital officer deals more with an organization’s movement from traditional business processes to digital contexts such as mobile and social. Data is an important part of what the chief digital officer does, but doesn’t define the role the way it does that of chief data officer.

As CIO.com Managing Editor Rich Hein summed it up, “In today’s world, conventional organizations have to overcome legacy systems and processes in order to facilitate the experience their customers have come to expect. Building and implementing a plan to do this seems to be the common theme and directive of the CDO.” I think we can identify specific mandates associated with that directive, just as the section above spells them out for the chief data officer.

Strategies for using first-party customer data to enrich the customer experience

• Identification of other digital innovations to incorporate into strategy

• Unification of digital information from multiple sources to achieve the elusive “360-degree” customer view

• Provide a cohesive strategy that includes Marketing, IT, Finance, and the other CDO

Both CDOs Are Working Toward a Common Goal

Despite the clear differences between chief data officers and chief digital officersthey’re very much the same in one key way: Both roles are ultimately committed to deriving business value from big data in today’s digital world.

One perspective I’ve come across puts the two in opposition to each other, casting chief digital officer as customer champion and chief data officer as traffic cop — and concluding that this puts the former in a better position to be more influential and achieve greater success within an organization. The CDO Club seems to have uncovered evidence to support this, pointing to the relatively large number of chief digital officers who ultimately become CEOs.

As for me, I believe there is more to be gained from focusing on their common goal of realizing value from data than on their differences. As data increasingly becomes a driver for business decisions, and digital increasingly provides the context for customer experiences, both have important roles to play in moving the business forward.

Now, if we could just figure out a way to refer to them by their acronyms without causing confusion.

For the original post, please visit Forbes.com