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What is a chief analytics officer (CAO) and who needs one?

What is a chief analytics officer (CAO) and who needs one?

After recently returning from the Gartner Data & Analytics conference in Texas earlier this month, I was contemplating many of the overarching themes presented during the sessions. One interesting theme was the establishment of a Chief Analytics Officer (CAO) and/or a Chief Data Officer (CDO). As I listened to the sessions, I was having trouble deciphering if the interest at the conference was more about those aspiring to be one versus those looking to create the role within their own organizations. Regardless of the intentions of the crowd, the idea of having a C-Level role focused on data and analytics was exciting to the audience, and provided an additional level of legitimacy, focus and importance to data and analytics.

The CAO/CDO terms seem to have been used interchangeably, but depending on the organization or scope of the role, these two roles could potentially have a very different focus. It got me thinking, what is the difference?

  1. A CDO, as its name implies, is more focused on data and having the ultimate accountability for the availability, accuracy and quality across the organization. This role would have a significant governance responsibility and span all facets of the business.

  2. A CAO, by contrast, is focused on managing the analytics needs across the organization. For many present day companies, this has seemed to morph into more of a "Data Science" focused role - but why?  The role of a CAO entails so much more than just advanced analytics. This CAO role needs to be the leading advocate for enabling analytics and providing all departments with the data driven means to execute their jobs more successfully. This includes providing the vision, tools, and capabilities for all departments to leverage analytics as an asset and a strategic tool.

Now, why do organizations need a CAO?  With the exponentially growing C-Suite in the last 15 years, with Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Legal Officer and so on. Many organizations are struggling with and hesitating about adding yet another seat to this table. As overheard during the conference, there are still only 2,000 CDO’s worldwide, which is up from 200 three years ago. This is a strong indication the explosion of organizations adding a dedicated CDO is trending to continue. The prediction I heard is 90% of large companies worldwide will have one by 2019.

Of course, there are factors like size of organization, type of business, and industry that would help to determine if one is needed and the role they would play. But, I don’t think anyone would deny how virtually all businesses are shifting with the high availability of data and using this as a key asset to drive business forward.  The role and importance of data is greater than ever and it is only increasing by the day. The need for a CAO has grown to help organizations be strategic about analytics and leverage it to change their business like many successful companies have done.

Are you ready for a CAO?

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