Introduction

The federal Chief Data Officer (CDO) position is a pivotal and transformational role that can significantly benefit the collection, organization, analysis and use of data in the agency as well as improve its value to society. The CDO must embrace the roles of change agent and evangelist to bring the inspirational vision of what data can do for all stakeholders.

CDOs must seize opportunities to leverage data as a strategic asset within their organization, otherwise, the CDO faces the risk of becoming a compliance driven position. The CDO should first focus on finding opportunities to promote the sharing and access of data within their agencies. They must build critical relationships and show value in the near-term through “quick wins,” as data governance and master data management programs take longer to implement and demonstrate results. It is a hard job with a value proposition not consistently appreciated and with challenges that are critical to overcome to properly serve their stakeholders and the American people.

Federal agencies are at different points of their data journey. While some CDOs have data science teams that are leveraging advanced analytics to derive meaningful insights, others have little to no budget or staffing resources to carry out the initiatives that support their data vision and strategy. A 2020 Gartner survey shows 14% of CDOs have been in their roles for less than a year.1 Many come into their role finding data silos throughout their agency, with data in disparate places and data functions mostly decentralized. CDO reporting and organizational structures also vary from agency to agency. Despite all this, CDOs must demonstrate early value generation, providing capabilities that build credibility and distinguish themselves as an executive far from the back office with a seat at the leadership table.

Federal CDOs come into their role needing a wide array of skills. They must be data evangelists responsible for changing the agency culture to use data to solve real problems and to adopt enterprise data standards that improve overall data quality as a by-product. They must inspire agency offices to engage in a shared unified vision for data by demonstrating they are strategic thinkers who understand how data can drive better agency outcomes and be of greater value to society. Much like the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPMs) five executive core qualifications (ECQs), it takes a variety of leadership skills, both hard and soft,2 to build trusting relationships with key stakeholders and advance the mission of their agency.

According to federal CDOs, persons in this position must have the ability to:

  • Communicate and translate complex concepts to all audiences

  • Understand and prioritize organizational business challenges and deliver value in these areas

  • Build and lead teams across the organization

  • Remain goal oriented and focused on reaching specified objectives by establishing structure and managing towards outcomes

  • Adapt and deal with different issues of importance to different customers

  • Influence others to realize the mission value of data

  • Manage change within organizations The goal of this playbook is to help you be key value drivers as the federal government expands its use of data as a strategic asset.

1 Gartner. CDO Agenda 2021: Influence and Impact of Successful CDOs in the Sixth Annual CDO Survey. March 2021.

2 See DOL’s “Soft Skills: The Competitive” Edge for a list of example hard and soft skills https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/publications/fact-sheets/soft-skills-the-competitive-edge)