The new role of CDOs in steering AI adoption

Poornima Ramaswamy

As the stewards of data quality and data governance, CDOs will have more impact than any other individual on driving the success or failure of AI projects in the years to come. As more organizations seek to leverage the power of artificial intelligence for creating new efficiencies and sustainable competitive advantages, CDOs should spearhead these transformational programs.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has already arrived in some form or other for every enterprise. From the AI-enabled applications on smartphones, chatbots, and predictive analysis used to develop new products – we are increasingly surrounded by AI-powered deployments. Yet most enterprises are still a long way from realizing sustainable value from AI capabilities. This isn’t due to a lack of enthusiasm: according to research (pdf) from New Vantage Partners, up to two in three (64.8%) of large companies from the 70 leading firms it surveyed are investing at least $50 million or more in AI initiatives. This is a significant increase from 39.7% recorded just two years ago. Despite this, many AI projects don’t deliver on intended value. Even more suffer from unintended consequences including breaches in ethical standards stemming from poor data management and governance principles. For AI initiatives to achieve their stated goals with efficacy and ethics intact, they require more than just technology investment – they need strong leadership and guidance from within the C-suite.

Increasingly, this responsibility is falling to the Chief Data Officer (CDO). In many respects, it makes sense; although AI is driven in part by technology, data is the fuel for AI. With the remit of delivering good quality data pipelines and sound data governance, the CDO is essential in ensuring that AI projects are not short-circuited by avoidable data management issues. According to Deloitte, more than 25% of Fortune 500 companies currently maintain a CDO position, and that proportion will increase as data analytics continues to play an outsized role in driving competitive advantage. However, more than 72% of firms report that the CDO function remains an unsettled role currently, while only 28% describe the CDO’s role as successful and established.

Can CDOs use their stewardship of AI projects as an opportunity to cement a more valuable role within the C-suite? Where are the opportunities for CDOs to make their mark in driving AI success?

Delivering Value Through Human-Centric

Design Championing human-centric design is a key strategy for CDOs to ensure that AI projects drive long term and ethical value for organizations – beyond simple automation and efficiency. As I discussed in a previous article, human-centric design within AI projects is essential for:

  • Achieving objectives that empower human decision making
  • Reducing the operational and ethical risks of feedback loops
  • Delivering measurable outcomes beyond financial gains
  • Creating real conversations between humans and AI analytics


With the CDO architecting the application of AI into various processes and functions, organizations can ensure alignment across the different organizational functions to keep the human in the system.

As the stewards of data quality and data governance, CDOs will have more impact than any other individual on driving the success or failure of AI projects in the years to come. As more organizations seek to leverage the power of artificial intelligence for creating new efficiencies and sustainable competitive advantages, CDOs should spearhead these transformational programs.

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Poornima Ramaswamy

Founder, Pivot X