Agreeing on Uniform CDO Qualifications

Agreeing on Uniform CDO Qualifications

Abstract: US federal agencies are now required to appoint a Chief Data Officers (CDO) for each organization. This is required in federal law; however, what constitutes a qualified CDO remains unclear. This paper offers explores the argument for organizations establish a formalized planning process that is predicated on data and the value it could bring organizations. This paper specifically describes how organizations can:

  • Realize that data strategies help them become data-centric;
  • Establish regular, predictable, standardized process; and
  • Implement a viable data strategy


There is a general belief that the average CIO tenure is from 18 months to two years (Marks 2011). A search for ‘CIO tenure’ reveals a more diffuse picture. Recently, unsubstantiated evidence has been introduced indicating that CIO tenure is approaching 4.5 years. In contrast, the information that the tenure of CFOs appears to have increased to almost 12 years in the year 2010 is easily obtained from the web (WEBCPA 2010). Some of this stability can be explained by a singular task focus.

CFOs have uniform prerequisite skills, certifications, and educational accomplishments. Professional organizations and recognized best practices uniformly dictate non-controversial KSAs. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) commonly possesses a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), a master’s degree in accounting, a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), an MBA, other recognized degrees/ certifications, or at least a strong accounting background (Congress 2002). These are, widely recognized as necessary but insufficient prerequisites/qualifications and, applauded.

CIO backgrounds have much variety. A strong IT knowledge has been seen to be a big “plus” with the other “plus” being organizational experience. While the lack of a “Qualifications Section” in Wikipedia is hardly proof, there is very little agreement on what is an appropriate background for a CIO. Popular CIO backgrounds include operations, finance, and sales/marketing. Wikipedia continues, “recently CIOs’ leadership capabilities, business acumen and strategic perspectives have taken precedence over technical skills. It is now quite common for CIOs to be appointed from the business side of the organization, especially if they have project management skills” (Wikipedia 2012).

CIOs come from a variety of backgrounds and are expected to master a wide variety of technologies as well as oversea a variety of technical functions. Despite a lack of formal, comprehensive, certifications.

CIOs come from a variety of backgrounds and are expected to master a wide variety of technologies as well as oversea a variety of technical functions. Despite a lack of formal, comprehensive, certifications and educational accomplishments, the CIO is the business executive upon whom is placed the requirement for the broadest skill set! These required skills include (from Curran 2009):

  • Leadership abilities;
  • Hands-on technology background;
  • Experience in leading large change programs;
  • Experience in running successful IT infrastructure operations;
  • Management experience in a non-IT function;
  • Innovative thinking that can solve relevant industry and business issues; and
  • The ability to understand how projects and operations impact corporate financials.

Finding these in a single individual has been a challenge. A quote well describing the current situation comes from a former CIO colleague:

“Advisors have been pontificating on the evolution of the CIO role towards CPO Chief Process Officer. So now the CIO would own all technology, all processes and all data. No other organization is experiencing this evolution into other spheres of influence. The CHRO does HR work. The CFO does financial work. The COO does operations work. However, the CIO is expected to be the head of technology, the architect of all business processes and the intelligence behind leveraging data. Most CIOs today are challenged with being ‘experts’ on technology (infra- structure and application), business process, relationship management and data management).”

None are successful at all and most have a bent towards only one of those areas, depending upon where they began their career and the path they took to attain their CIO role (Giuffrida 2011).

The management of data as an asset has almost never been seen as a significant CIO skill or job qualification requirement. Outside of previously referenced specialty programs, there are not many places that an aspiring IT executive would even encounter DM as topic of study. Smart, anxious-to-learn individuals, study, preparing for IT leadership primarily through graduate curricula. They take classes and learn what we teach them.

A typical computer science/information/systems/ computer engineering degree includes just one course focusing on data. That course typically focuses on the how of building a database using Oracle, MS-Access/SQL Server, or an open source project. 7 A typical business graduate might be exposed to Microsoft’s Access. Because DM is not a formal part of the curricula, they explicitly learn that DM is not part of what IT leaders do. As DM was not part of their education, it doesn’t become part of their IT management purview. This technology focus provides the average IT worker with very little practical knowledge of how best to leverage data assets. As a result, very few IT or business professionals are data-knowledgeable.

In summary, while some C-level positions benefit from uniformly mandated knowledge, skills and abilities, the CIO function is lacking these consistent qualifications. Consistently, the CIO function has been not data-knowledgeable there has been a lack of explicit, reliable and repeatable knowledge of how to leverage data assets. Because of the long-term planning required to obtain significant ROI, this results in IT leadership not considering various planning tradeoffs and making poor data decisions.


  1. Curran, C. (2009). CIO Background check: IT experience mandatory? (2013), retrieved from,
  2. Giuffrida, P. (2011). The data focused CIO.
  3. Marks, J. (2011). Average tenure for agency CIOs is hovering at two years, GAO says. Retrieved from, hovering-at-two-years-gao-says/49956/. (24.11.2012).
  4. WEBCPA, S. (2010). CFO tenure appears to be lengthening, from, http://www.accountingtoday. com/news/CFO-Tenure-Lengthening-53255-1.html.