Skip to Content

A Strategic Blueprint for Excelling in Your First 90 Days as a CDO

Divya Radhakrishnan
Nov 30, 2023

Chief Data Officer (CDO) function is critical for organisations striving to drive data driven culture and identify areas of opportunity. The role requires a mix of skills including business acumen, people engagement and technical oversight to ensure success. Here, we outline the steps that a CDO can embark on for the first 90 days to ensure that the environment of sustenance for growth and innovation can be met.

As the reliance on data to enable business agility and reliance increases for organisations to succeed and grow in the digital space, so does the importance of the role of Chief Data Officer (CDO). The pre pandemic growth and post pandemic corrections have expanded the role of a CDO to not only deliver value from their data initiatives, but also to build a data driven culture within organisations to foster growth and innovation.

With the rise of business domain led data and analytics principle where data is no longer seen as just a support function but rather a core need and with this the CDO’s mandate is slowly changing focus from cost optimisation to value maximation avenues. Hence, the responsibilities and expectations placed upon CDO’s have been continuously evolving, which has left companies with a question of “How can we implement an effective and manageable data office within the dynamic nature of data management and the ever-changing technological landscape?”

The Challenge

According to a Harvard Business Review study – Sixty-two percent of CDOs surveyed reported that the CDO role is poorly understood, and incumbents of the job have often met with diffuse expectations and short tenures. 

The landscape of CDO offices has undergone significant changes over the years, reflecting the evolving needs and challenges of data management within organisations. One of the common issues has been the lack of single accountability of data responsibility within the corporation. A study by Harvard Business Review quote that average tenure of a CDO is between two and two-and-a-half years which can be attributed to evolving responsibility and the lack of clarity of priorities and cultural resistance. Organisations are constantly seeking CDOs with the right skills and experience. Additionally, the high demand for data-driven strategies and the scarcity of experienced CDOs have resulted in a competitive market.

Other reasons often cited for failures include lack of strategic oversight, lack of leadership and stakeholder buy-in, inability to build the appropriate skill sets, lack of funding and sponsorship, siloed data operations and inability to build trust in data consumptions. According to a Harvard Business Review study – A substantial (69%) percentage of CDOs spend a significant portion of their time on data-driven culture initiatives, and it is clear why: 55% view a lack of a data-driven culture as a top challenge to meeting business objectives. Therefore, it is no surprise that, CDO’s who have managed to turn the stories to positives have attributed their success to spending time on planning, catering to the people aspects, and looking at technology as enablers of business outcomes to achieve their vision.

The first 90 days of a CDO’s term is especially important and sets the tone on how CDO’s can navigate in the complex data landscape, mange disruptive technology to their advantage, focus on growth while gaining the support of the stakeholders.

First 90 days of a CDO

Navigating through the complex business scenarios, managing stakeholder expectation, focusing on delivery, gaining the confidence of the management and showing tangible benefits is part of every new CDO’s story. In most organisations, data is still not a direct lever for measurement of revenue or optimisation of cost. Hence a direct line of sight between the activities of a CDO and the benefits to an organisation are hard to derive which makes the role very complex to navigate.

Having worked with CDOs in both private and public sector, Capgemini Invent has identified the following essentials that a new CDO must consider to ensure success:

Image source : https://storyset.com/: First 90 Days of a CDO

1. Start and focus on people: a CDO’s role involves extensive collaboration and forging partnerships with diverse set of stakeholders. A new CDO must spend time to understand the people footprint, set up regular cadences with various stakeholders in the organisations to establish the importance of CDO’s role and create awareness. These initiatives will not only help the CDO to shape his own mandate but will also provide avenues for other stakeholders to find the possibilities for collaboration and support. Fostering confidence is the key to get the stakeholder buy in. CDO’s hence should:

a) Mobilise the core team who will enable the delivery of the data mandate

b) Set up forums as means to get inputs, gather feedback on the next steps, cement relationships and manage expectations.

c) Clearly communicate to all what the key outcomes, scope and expectation of the CDO role will be to get common alignment

d) Develop strategies to create synergies within the enterprise which is focussed on managing and communicating the value of managing data as an asset to the various stakeholders

2. Keep the data mandate simple but relevant: Often when CDO’s start their journey without pivoting their drivers to organisational strategic objectives, it results in a disconnect between the data initiatives and business outcomes. CDO’s can circumvent shortcoming by setting clear foundational elements during the start of the journey which encompasses the following:

a) Clearly pivot the data mandate to be in line with the business strategy and start with key focus areas

b) Co-create CDO function vision and strategy in conjunction with the various lines of business within the organisation

c) Establish a clear line of sight between the data initiatives and tangible benefits by formulating a business case and establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of data initiatives.

d) Design programme governance and ways of working

e) Create a skill matrix against the mandate to identify the organisational capabilities and ideate ways to manage the gaps.

f) Pivot data governance as a key enabler of the data mandate

3. Drive the momentum: creation and capitalisation of the initial momentum will be focal to gaining support of all stakeholders. Once the plan for the operationalisation of data mandate is in place, there should be focus on quick wins possibly consisting of key data quality engagements to showcase impacts. The momentum should balance risk and reward to make it sustainable. The quick wins should also be used as means to test the water and the learnings will be critical for the CDO to take into consideration any changes if needed to the data mandate. CDO must therefore:

a) Develop a risk management strategy to mitigate potential losses.

b) Consider portfolio adjustments if necessary to optimise returns.

c) Focus on learning and improvement

4. Overcome the cultural inertia growth/innovation/change management: success of data initiatives relies on the foundational cornerstones of people, process and technology. Extensive investments on technology or extensive planning alone will fall insufficient for data initiatives to get the needed momentum. A CDO must understand the organisational cultural inertia and incorporate the findings into the plan. Breaking cultural blocks is effort intensive but appropriate controls in place which incorporate the below will ensure progressive strides.

a) Manage the fabric of data literacy.

b) Embed the need to be data driven by showcasing real examples

c) Communicate success stories and foster an environment that is driven by innovation and learning

d) Plan for learning and development program which is focussed on providing a supportive environment and cater to the needs of the different levels of stakeholders.

e) Set aside a part of the budget specifically for the people development and key skillsets as part of the budget portfolio.

f) Keep the data initiatives relevant to business and stakeholder outcomes

The foundations that the CDO will put into the first 90 days will be instrumental in ensuring the success of the role. The landscape of the CDO office is constantly evolving, as organisations adopt recent technologies and data-driven strategies. CDOs must be able to adapt to these changes and stay ahead of the curve. CDO’s should follow cycle of define (what to do) and refine (how to do) iteratively while incorporating the learnings from the first 90 days to ensure the successful delivery of the data mandate.

  1. https://hbr.org/2021/08/why-do-chief-data-officers-have-such-short-tenures
  2. https://hbr.org/2023/01/8-strategies-for-chief-data-officers-to-create-and-demonstrate-value

Divya Radhakrishnan

Managing Consultant
Divya is an experienced data management professional having led multiple consulting and advisory engagements across domains. She has worked with C-Suites and senior leaders to enable them in their data journeys. She is also the author of multiple research papers catering to data and analytics leaders.