Most CDOs are out the door in 2 or 3 years. Why?

An interesting read from the Harvard Business Review:

Both the data and our experience suggest that the CDO role is a tenuous one. The average tenure, according to a Gartner survey and our own analysis, is between two and two-and-a-half years. Few CDOs have been in the role for more than three years. While most CDOs are championed upon their arrival, the honeymoon often ends sharply at about the 18-month period, when they are held accountable for achieving major transformational change — a quick timeline, given that data transformation is typically a multi-year process at a minimum for large, legacy organizations.


Why is the CDO job so problematic? There are many reasons, unfortunately, but the most important one might be that the job is often poorly defined. Many organizations expect too much of their CDOs and have unclear priorities for them. They can’t create the ideal data environment within their companies, because legacy companies have legacy systems and data environments, and large-scale change in them is very expensive. Few companies have the appetite to throw them away and start from scratch. And this is all at a time when the volume of data increases enormously each year, and new technologies for managing it appear almost daily.

CDOs themselves may also find it difficult to sell their achievements to business audiences. Even when there are improvements in data, they are often relatively invisible to internal users, and very difficult to measure in business terms. And while CDOs may have data expertise, they typically lack C-suite experience and organizational leadership skills at the senior executive level. Their C-suite compensation levels plus their lack of C-suite history and lack of well-developed C-suite political savvy often makes them targets from day one.

In addition to improving the data environment, many organizations today are interested in changing the cultures of their firms in a more data-driven direction.