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Seventy-two percent of data and analytics leaders with digital initiatives are either leading or heavily involved in their organization’s digital transformation initiatives, while only about a quarter (24%) lead them, according to Gartner’s sixth annual Chief Data Officer survey.

The CDO is becoming increasingly important to enterprises, Gartner said. This year, in 75% of large organizations, the office of the CDO will be seen as a mission-critical function, comparable to IT, business operations, HR and finance, the firm said.

Further, CDOs who successfully demonstrate ROI from their data and analytics investments are 1.7 times more likely to be effective at consistently producing clear business value for the organization, the survey found. Those who reduced time to market were 2.3 times more likely to bring value, and those who succeeded in monetizing data were 3.5 times likely to create clear business value, according to the CDO survey.

SEE: Why your company needs a chief data officer (TechRepublic)

On the flip side, less successful CDOs are those who fail to show a link between data and analytics and business value and who are inclined to focus on technology instead of people, according to Gartner.

People-related skills are paramount. Ninety-three percent of CDO respondents reported that effective communication is critical to success: Influencing, engagement and effective communication plans are essential, the survey said.

“The results indicate that more organizations now understand the synergy between building a data-driven business and leading digital transformation,” said Debra Logan, distinguished research vice president at Gartner, in a statement. “D&A strategy is a business strategy infused with D&A thinking; it has a primary role in digital business strategy, affecting everything the organization does.”

Gartner analysts presented these findings during the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit 2021, which is taking place virtually in the Americas through Thursday.

Even though not many of the respondents said they are leading digital transformation efforts, the boundaries between CDOs and chief digital officers are becoming more and more blurred. CDOs are increasingly being asked to take on more strategic objectives and lead digital transformation initiatives as the digital business itself transforms to business as usual, Gartner said.

Prioritize business-facing KPIs to enhance influence and impact

While data quality (51%), ROI from D&A investments (44%) and data sharing (43%) are D&A leaders’ top objectives, their role will not be seen as valuable unless they focus on stakeholders’ Key Performance Indicators, the survey said.

“It’s not enough to manage data and create insights,” Logan said. “These activities must deliver measurable business outcomes.”

“Data sharing is the way to optimize higher quality data and more robust data and analytics to solve business challenges and goals,” she added. “Data sharing is an important KPI and a business necessity. It accelerates digital business transformation.”

Gartner predicts that by 2023, organizations that promote data sharing will outperform their peers on most business value metrics.

Successful CDOs translate data into business results

The survey also found that 93% of CDO respondents cited effective communication as being critical to the success of their roles. Overall, the most important competencies for data and analytics leaders are influencing, engagement and effective communication plans. These are leadership and not management skills.

“If the CDO does not exert influence across the organization by promoting data sharing, engaging stakeholders and training the workforce to become data literate, they will likely not perform well in their role,” Logan said.

Other Gartner recommendations are that CDOs clarify executive accountability to drive digital and data mandates. “This will illustrate the critical significance of D&A to digital business endeavors,” the survey said.

The CDO should also focus on ROI to improve the value received from these investments by increasing data sharing, improving the customer experience and using data and analytics in decision making in a measurable way, the survey said.

The time to plan is now, Gartner said. By 2023, half of the enterprises that don’t have a chief data officer will require that executive to become the de facto CDO if they want to succeed, the firm said.

By 2024, 40% of organizations will deploy continuous learning to better support organizational shifts toward real-time performance, feedback and coaching, Gartner said.

The sixth annual Gartner Chief Data Officer survey was conducted from September through November 2020 with 469 CDOs, chief analytics officers and other high-level data and analytics leaders from across the world. They represented 16 industry segments in companies ranging from less than $10 million to over $10 billion, with 61% having over $1 billion in revenue.