Do Chief Data Officers Encroach on CIOs?

There’s an ongoing belief by some that the role of chief data officer competes with, and some say usurps, the chief information officer in some organizations. Yet three CDOs recently offered effusive support for their CIOs.

According to a post at TechTarget.com, three CDOs from KeyBank, Nationwide Insurance and Seattle Children’s Hospital spoke in favor of the CIOs from their organizations. Without their support, their roles would not exist.

The article said, “At Nationwide, the position was developed for strategic reasons, specifically to help the business operations become more data-driven, said Wes Hunt. Prior to taking on the CDO role at the mutual insurance company in Columbus, Ohio almost a year ago, Hunt led the analytics program out of the marketing department for 11 years. ‘The CIO created the CDO position because our thinking has evolved,’ said Hunt, who now sits within the IT department, reporting to a shared services function.”

He made his comments during the IBM Chief Data Officer Strategy Summit in Boston. The summit examined how the CDO’s position within the C-Level chain of command can vary per organization and at times, be ambiguous. It also examined how they face the difficulty of striking the balance between IT and business; technology and strategy.

Ursula Cottone, CDO at the Cleveland-based KeyBank, said in the article that her role was created in partnership between the CIO and the chief marketing officer. “Together, they created this role knowing what was needed, which was a blend between business and technology, and the need to bridge the gap,” she said during the conference.

But then the article raises a point that CIOs, CMOs, and CDOs face. Where does the CDO belong in the corporate structure? “While the CIO helped develop the role of the CDO, IT ultimately wasn’t a good place for the role to exist, and the company has struggled with determining where the role fits into its organizational structure. Since being named CDO two years ago, Cottone, a KeyBank employee for 16 years, has cycled through two bosses, including the CIO of shared services who oversaw the risk, finance and HR portfolio, and the director of enterprise architecture. Today, she reports to the head of marketing and analytics. ‘It’s Goldilocks, trying to find the right fit,’ she said.”

Nick Heath, writing at TechRepublic.com, says there’s no answer to that question for the simple reason there can only be one position: not both. “Within three years, the friction and overlapping responsibilities between the CIO and the newly-created chief digital officer role will result in one role swallowing the other,” he wrote.

He cited a Gartner report. Among its findings, “Before these CDO and CIO roles swallow each other, existing CIOs and CTOs should form a close working relationship with both flavors of CDO, particularly if they don’t want their roles to collide in the near future.”

The article also said, “Over the next three to five years, Gartner said the friction between chief digital officer and CIO will become more evident. While internal technology operations, as well as some aspects of technology innovation, will be left to the CTO, the battleground for CIOs and chief digital officers will be how to handle digital information.”

Eugene Kolker, CDO at Seattle Children’s Hospital, claims to have pioneered the role back in 2007. As such, he might offer the best perspective on where the CDO should sit in an organization. “What’s working? When I sit in between the two sides: business and IT,” he is quoted as saying.

The TechTarget.com article added, “Kolker’s executive sponsors — the CIO and the chief medical officer — come from both sides of the house. Together, Kolker and his sponsors figure out what initiatives they’re going to take on and when to develop those data stories. That kind of group-think is vital, Kolker said, helping translate an IT problem into a business problem and vice versa. ‘It’s not just about data, analytics or technology; it’s primarily about people and how to empower them to drive business value,’ he said.”

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping, About.com, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.