Why You Need a CAO in Your C-Suite in the Age of Big Data

Nothing is transforming business faster today than the rise of data and analytics. But to deliver on the promise of both, organizations are coming to the realization they need someone in the C-suite solely focused on analytics initiatives. As research firm Gartner notes, they “need new executive roles that bridge the gap between ‘business’ and ‘IT,’ and harness the data to achieve digital and business objectives.”

Today’s digital transformation can be disruptive unless you get ahead of it and ‘interrupt that disruption.’ The secret is to hire new executives who have the ability to uncover the strategic and innovative use of data and analysis for insights towards mission critical growth, revenue and operational improvements. But that’s not all: The big data challenge calls for a new breed of leaders who can be ‘master change agents’ as well to match the velocity of change – outside and inside!

These new roles encompass a variety of titles, including Chief Data Officer and Chief Analytics Officer. Some companies prefer a Chief Digital Officer, a hybrid title that encompasses a broad mixture of functional and leadership expertise. On the one hand, there’s much confusion about analytics processes and some lack of clarity about which combination of technical skills and data expertise is the right match for the organization’s unique needs. However, there’s also much excitement about the business potential of data analysis.

One problem for organizations is that while it is easy to get lots of data, it’s very difficult to extract and transform it into accurate data analysis that inspires confidence in fact-based decision-making. And in many cases, even if they do have solid analysis, they may still eschew it. A recent study by the Journal of Finance found many executives still prefer gut instinct over data.

“Many CEOs themselves say that ‘gut feeling’ is important for their investment decisions,” Forbes quoted the authors as saying. “The problem is, that there is by now overwhelming evidence from psychology and economics suggesting that intuitive reasoning in financial matters frequently leads to biased and therefore suboptimal decisions.”

The CAO or CDO should be tasked with breaking down data silos.

Until now, data and analytics have operated in their own distinct realms – IT focuses on collecting and storing the data, while each functional group taps into relevant sets for its own purposes. But organizations stand to benefit more from a holistic view of all data. Recognizing that no data set is an island, the C-suite should now be driving their CAO or CDO to break down silos and create synergistic relationships for the greater good.There is no doubt that these roles have distinct characteristics, significant dependencies, and – yes – some overlap of duties. The CDO is usually responsible for strategies to align and execute policies and procedures, ensure secure data management and define the ‘how’ of data governance. By contrast, the CAO is sharply focused on demonstrating the importance and true value of data and moving the power of data analytics in to the hands of business decision makers. Meanwhile, the CIO is the glue between the two, with the responsibility of fundamentally managing technology. The three are a part of greater ‘whole’, and together they lead the organization collectively toward growth.

While the responsibilities of the CAO or CDO may overlap somewhat from company to company, no role is identical. Needs and expectations are likely to differ depending on the type of company, its industry and its stage of growth. For example, the priority for CAOs at startups is getting insights from basic customer data, while at a larger, more mature firm, the CAO will be focused on deploying more sophisticated analytic software to find new areas of growth. Industry needs vary too. Financial companies will have a need to detect financial crime, while consumer retailers will seek to understand customer buying patterns.

With many paths to this role, the search for the right CAO and CDO is challenging.

As a result, there are many paths to this role, an aspect that complicates the search for talent. Organizations may find excellent candidates who have served as CMO, CTO, CIO or even CFO. In some fields, specialization skews the search. For example, we know of a Chief Health Officer being a great CAO for a healthcare organization.

Gartner emphasizes that the CAO or CDO should have a data monetization mindset. If this is most important to your organization, you may want to list it high on your hiring wish list. ADP points out that CFOs naturally have this skillset and thus may very well be the best candidate. But, there’s a big caveat: They must have adequate knowledge of analytic and big data methodologies, software and complexity of data integration. We know this can’t be true across the board? The roles of CAO and CDO are new and still evolving, making it more challenging to find and hire the right candidate.

That’s one reason working with an agency that specializes in filling senior and executive analytic roles will provide you an advantage. At IQ Workforce, we’ve been recruiting for data analytics roles for more than 10 years. We stay in touch with talented individuals throughout their careers, and we’re constantly networking in this space. As a result, not only can we identify promising talent among this emerging breed of ‘Next Gen’ senior executive leadership, but we can match your organization to the right individual to be your next CAO or CDO.

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