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The boundaries between chief data officers and chief digital officers are blurring as data officers are increasingly asked to take on more strategic objectives and lead digital transformation initiatives, according to market research firm Gartner.

Almost three-quarters (72%) of data and analytics leaders with digital initiatives are either leading — or heavily involved in — their organization’s digital transformation initiatives, Gartner said in its sixth Chief Data Officer survey. Chief data officers with business-facing key performance indicators and partners across the business were 1.7 times more likely to demonstrate return on investment and business value, according to the survey of 469 high-level data and analytics leaders.

Less successful data leaders focus on technology instead of people.

“Focus on the outcomes: That’s the way to win,” Gartner VP Andrew White said during this week’s Gartner Data and Analytics Summit, which was held virtually this year. “It’s not about technology, it’s not about the dashboard, it’s about the decision.”

As more business leaders rely on data-driven insights to make decisions, securing data and developing an analytics strategy become more important. The chief data officer performs a mission-critical function — on par with IT business operations, HR, and finance — in three-quarters of large organizations, Gartner said. Data and analytics leaders typically focus on enhancing data quality, increasing the value of their D&A investments, and improving data sharing.

Data sharing accelerates digital transformation because it optimizes higher-quality data to solve business challenges and goals. Gartner predicts that by 2023, organizations that promote data sharing will outperform their peers on most business value metrics.

Data leaders also need to focus on meeting business goals and requirements. Data leaders who don’t establish a clear link between data and analytics with business outcomes are less successful, the survey found.

“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,” Gartner VP Debra Logan said in a statement.

While every enterprise may not appoint a dedicated chief data officer, many are exploring ways to be more strategic about how the business works with data. By 2023, half of the enterprises that don’t have a chief data officer will require an executive to become the de facto CDO if they want to succeed, Gartner said.

“The results indicate that more organizations now understand the synergy between building a data-driven business and leading digital transformation,” Logan said. “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.”

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