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The Rise of Chief Data Officers

Analytical companies are taking over markets by utilizing data better than their competitors. In these companies, data is managed as an asset. The key to their success is the role of Chief Data Officers, who possess the power to drive strategic changes in the company's business processes and to direct investments for better data management practices.

Sami Laine, 16.06.2023



Professor Davenport highlighted already in 2007 how leading companies across industries gained a competitive edge through the adoption of analytical business models. One notable example is Walmart, which leveraged analytics to predict ice cream demand and optimize deliveries based on weather forecasts. By dispatching trucks from distant locations to sunny beaches ahead of heatwaves, they ensured timely product availability. Capital One, on the other hand, achieved significant advancements in product development through continuous measurement and data-driven decision-making in the financial sector.

These data-driven companies, utilizing advanced analytics, have consistently enhanced their relative competitiveness for several decades. Recent research suggests that they have not only maintained their advantage but also expanded the gap with their competitors. Insights-driven businesses, in particular, have experienced annual growth rates ranging from 27% to 40%, far surpassing the global GDP growth rate of 3.5% (Forrester, 2016). This underscores the transformative power of data and analytics in driving business success and outperforming traditional growth metrics.

Data assets should be managed from the top

At the same time, many companies have struggled to achieve significant returns and improved profitability with their digitalization investments. The main reason for this failure has often been attributed to a narrow focus on digitalization as IT software projects or isolated analytics projects. Successful companies, on the other hand, have focused on transforming their business processes and productizing their data assets. Data has been seen as a valuable capital that is systematically managed across data supply chains and that will enable the needed analytical and automated processes.

However, a practical dilemma often arises, which is well-known to all professionals in the field of data management. The person responsible for data management development has been given the task to deliver a software project that should produce business benefits. Business leaders want to increase profits or reduce costs by investing in modern data and analytics like their competitors and famous world-leading companies. However, their business models and operational practices should not be changed. In practice, the task is to increase business benefits, but the necessary changes to achieve the goal are not allowed.

The conflict mentioned earlier has highlighted the importance of elevating the responsibility for data management to a more influential level within the organization. This level of authority should be high enough to facilitate changes in business operations and practices across different units. Therefore, it is not surprising that the closer CDOs are to the top of the power hierarchy in organizations, the more successful they are (Gartner, 2020). In addition, a significantly larger proportion of high-performing organizations have their D&A lead report directly to the CEO (35%) compared to those in the low-performing group (13%). These organizations have recognized that strategic changes to data-driven business operations and data assets require a senior-level position with sufficient authority and resources.

To overcome the dilemma between power and expectations, the data leader should be a part of the top management team and a member of the Board of Directors to ensure that the company's strategy and operations align with strategic data management investments.

The rise of the Chief Data Officer role

The world's first company to establish a CDO position within its organization was Capital One, which did so in 2003. Since then, a growing number of other large companies have established similar roles within their organizations. Over the next decade after the first CDO appointment, the importance of data and analytics was recognized more widely among companies. By 2013, more than half of companies had already appointed senior-level positions such as Head of Data, Director of Analytics, or similar (Accenture, 2013). However, the CDO position was still rare and mainly found in the financial and government sectors and a few pioneers across other industry sectors (Gartner, 2014).

In recent years, however, the situation has started to change rapidly. Chief Data Officer positions have become more common, and specifically with that title. Above all, their positions within organizations have risen to higher levels. They are increasingly likely to report directly to the CEO and measure outcomes by business performance metrics. According to the latest Gartner surveys, the most successful data and analytics leaders are outperforming their peers by focusing on creating business value, nurturing data and analytics talent, and changing culture. They also note that the gap between leaders and laggards is growing.

Peer networking for Chief Data Officers

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) have been gathering annually at the MIT CDOIQ Symposium, hosted at the campus of the world's leading technical university. The event is organized by the founders of the university's MIT Information Quality research program alongside a network of industry thought leaders and academic researchers they have assembled. At the MIT CDOIQ events, typical participants and speakers have been the highest-ranked data strategists and leaders from organizations like American Express, Chevron, GlaxoSmithKline, Kaiser Permanente, National Security Agency, PayPal, Pentagon, SAP, and US Airforce, just to name a few participants of the previous symposiums. The event has been a place where the Turing award winners like Stonebraker and academic bestseller authors such as Davenport meet with industry executives and Ivy-league professors. The event is intended to be a peer network for data leaders, by data leaders – a university background ensures an impartial atmosphere.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the year 2020 event, which was previously held on the MIT campus, was opened for the first time as a virtual broadcast. DAMA International, due to the initiative of the Finnish DAMA Finland ry within the Finnish Tivia community, offered to help expand the symposium internationally, which partly helped to significantly increase the number of participants and widen the reach to a global audience. Building upon this momentum, the 2021 event further accelerated these trends by introducing an international program line that focused on speakers from outside of North America.

During the 2020 event, Dr. Wang, the founder of the MIT CDOIQ Symposium, introduced the Country CDO Ambassador Program, extending a call to collaborate with data and analytics leaders worldwide. This program is designed to establish a global network of CDO activists, aiming to align events, associations, magazines, and education under a common mission—to empower data leaders in delivering strategic value to businesses and society at large. By fostering collaboration and sharing best practices, the program seeks to address the collective challenge of leveraging data for maximum impact and benefit.

In connection with this, TIVIA, ICT Leaders Finland, and DAMA Finland decided to unite their efforts and start to promote the CDO approach and networking also in Finland. The network's goal is to support Finnish data leaders in exchanging experiences, developing skills, and obtaining professional qualifications, especially by leveraging exceptional international connections and resources. All Finnish top data leaders and data strategists in their respective organizations are encouraged to join this network, benefiting from the valuable opportunities it provides.

The renowned CDOIQ Symposium lands to the Nordics

On 6th February 2024, the first-ever CDOIQ Nordic Symposium will take place at Aalto University in Espoo, Finland. This highly anticipated event aims to convene the most distinguished data leaders, including Chief Data Officers, VP Data Science, Heads of Data, and other similar titles, from the Nordic region's industry, government, and academia. The symposium is a collaborative effort between the CDOIQ team and Aalto EE, with a shared vision of establishing the premier data and analytics leadership event in the Nordics. Through this symposium, participants can expect a platform for insightful discussions, knowledge sharing, and networking opportunities, fostering the advancement of data-driven practices and innovation across the Nordic community.

The Symposium is organized under the theme "Value from Data for Business and Society" and comprises three tracks. The event expects 200 in-person participants and 400 virtual attendees from all Nordic countries.

The Advisory Board and Program Committee, which are comprised of carefully selected representatives from various industry sectors across the Nordic countries, will collaborate with the core Aalto EE team to create the full agenda. Learn more about the CDOIQ Symposium in the Nordics! 

Sami Laine is a Senior Advisor at Aalto EE, where he is currently spearheading the mission to bring the world-renowned CDOIQ Symposium to the Nordics in 2024. During his over 20 years career, he has worked in data management practitioner, consultant, researcher, and teacher roles in several business sectors. Throughout his career, Sami has been an active advocate for promoting quality and ethical perspectives in data management and business decision-making, as recognized by his nomination for the DAIR Awards in 2022. He has been a long-time president and board member of the DAMA Finland ry and a program committee member of the MIT CDOIQ Symposium.

As the Vice President of DAMA Finland ry, Laine promotes awareness and dissemination of good practices in data management as part of the international DAMA International community and the national Finnish Information Processing Association – TIVIA ry community. DAMA Finland ry is a local chapter of the international organization DAMA International in Finland and a national theme association of TIVIA ry. The association is non-profit and independent of suppliers and technology. Its purpose is to promote and develop best practices in information management and the role of information as an important asset in organizational operations.


Accenture (2013) Analytics in Action: Breakthroughs and Barriers on the Journey to ROI.
Davenport, T. H., Harris, J. G. (2007) Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning, Harvard Business Review Press.
Forrester (2016) Insights-Driven Businesses Set The Pace For Global Growth
Gartner (2014) CIO Advisory: The Chief Data Officer Trend Gains Momentum.
Gartner, (2020) Survey Analysis: Fifth Gartner CDO Survey — How Chief Data Officers Are Driving Business Impact.
Lee Y, Madnick S, Wang R, Wang F, Zhang H. (2014) A cubic framework for the chief data officer: Succeeding in a world of big data. MIS Quarterly Executive. 13 (1)

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