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Heads of Data vs Chief Data Officers

The data & analytics space loves to create new roles and titles. Often, it’s hard to tell exactly what these new roles do, or if their proposed responsibilities are already being met elsewhere. One role I’ve uncovered while researching data product management is Head of Data. While this sounds similar to the Chief Data Officer role, the two are really quite different. This post looks at some of the differences in these two positions.

Enterprises have been adding Chief Data Officers (CDOs) to their C-Suite since the early 2000s, hoping to support business strategy with a cohesive data strategy. The CDO is responsible for many aspects of data management, like:

  • Data governance at the corporate level, commonly overseeing some form of enterprise data governance team.
  • Data monetization strategies across the enterprise.
  • Creating a data vision and strategy around how data is managed, stored and used with what the business’ objectives are and ensuring alignment.

As you can tell, Chief Data Officers are focused on interacting with the business and how it uses data. There is less emphasis on technology and infrastructure, since those remain the responsibility of the CIO or CTO. CDOs may report to the CEO directly, but it’s also common to see them reporting to R&D or finance.

If CDOs are primarily focused on governance with an eventual goal of creating a data-driven enterprise (whatever that means), Heads of Data are a new type of role designed around growth-oriented customer-facing activities. Instead of taking an enterprise scope, Heads of Data are more like senior product managers. This role may be expected to:

Like many new data-centric jobs, Head of Data is a multi-faceted role that requires people to be effective collaborators and communicators, but also adept technologists. Prospective Heads of Data must have deep domain knowledge and be as comfortable optimizing SQL as presenting to executive and board-level stakeholders.

Alternative titles for Heads of Data include: Head of Customer Analytics, Head of Business Intelligence, Head of Analytics and Head of Digital Analytics.

Unlike the CDO, Heads of Data likely report to the Chief Product Officer or Chief Customer Officer, but the reporting structure will depend on the company.

Chief Data Officers often have a strong foundation in data governance or risk management, which I believe limits their potential upside to the business. Heads of Data are likely coming from product management, data science or engineering backgrounds, which focus more on customer value and growth. Unlike the CDO, which focuses on what can’t be done, Heads of Data focus on what can. While both roles may be required for enterprises going forward, the growth-focused Head of Data is a great career progression for data & analytics generalists looking to make the next step.

Photo by Stephen Dawson on Unsplash