Average chief data officer tenure just 2.5 years: 7 things to know

Decades ago, "CIO" was repeatedly joked to be an abbreviation for "career is over." Now, chief data officer may have taken the crown as the IT role with the shortest tenure, according to an Aug. 18 Harvard Business Review report.

Seven things to know:

  1. The average tenure for a CDO is just 2 1/2 years. Just like the early days of the CIO, CDOs have short tenure and high turnover rates. Many companies are unsure what they want from their data execs.

  2. In a 2012 NewVantage survey, just 12 percent of firms had a CDO. In 2021, NewVantage found that 65 percent of firms had a CDO role. The trend may reflect the importance of managing data for companies and recognition that data execs differ from similar roles, such as CIOs and chief technology officers.

  3. However, short tenures reveal the role experiences some instability, in part because it is poorly defined. Many organizations expect a lot from their CDO. At the 18-month mark, companies hold their CDOs accountable for transformational change. Legacy data systems are also expensive to replace. Many companies don't want to front the cash to build new systems from scratch.

  4. CDOs, who have high salaries and are traditionally less business savvy, might become targets to other employees.

  5. "I feel I am failing in my job because I am expected to carry out cultural change as well as implement a series of important technical changes," an anonymous CDO said. "I am not experienced in change management and find the cultural change very difficult to achieve."

  6. One way to preserve a CDO role is to have it include analytics and artificial intelligence since it's much easier to demonstrate value in those areas. Another suggestion is to lead with a few forward-thinking business partners to demonstrate what is possible. The partnership can foster change across the organization.

  7. Data strategies must be tied to business strategies and goals. Once the goals are agreed upon, the CDO can build the data assets so a firm can achieve its goals. Scalable and sustainable data analytic products to accelerate time and value for business units can also lengthen tenure. It shows the C-suite team the value of data assets and analytical capabilities.

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