Chief data officers are becoming key parts of the C-suite. Here are 3 things aspiring CDOs should be doing right now to prepare for the complex role.


  • The job of the chief data officer is increasingly complex. Tasks often include oversight of regulatory and compliance issues relating to big data, as well as determining how to use the information to drive new revenue.
  • Cox Automotive hired Mark Luber earlier this year to figure out ways the data stored within its legacy brands like Kelley Blue Book could be used to launch new offerings for customers. 
  • Chief among the traits of a successful chief data officer, according to Luber, is a broad background, including experience in both technical and operational issues. 
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Chief data officers are becoming more common in corporations as companies seek to put to use the massive troves of data they’ve gathered to help snuff out the competition.

The role comes with a broad mandate of figuring out what data an organization has, how it can be used to save money or launch new offerings, and the legal and regulatory issues surrounding that. This means businesses are increasingly looking for data chiefs with diverse experience in technical issues like data science, as well as commercial knowledge, including how to interact with customers and develop new products.

Mark Luber became Cox Automotive’s first chief data officer in April. With a broad background in product management, software engineering, and data analytics, Luber quickly realized he could tap into that expertise to achieve the role’s mandate of using data long-stored within the company’s various legacy brands to launch new offerings.

“It’s helpful to start with what you’re trying to accomplish,” he told Business Insider in September. A key function of this role is to connect Cox’s capabilities across the company and find the “right to win with what the market opportunities are.”

Underneath the Cox Automotive umbrella is a slew of well-known brands that for decades have helped consumers buy, sell, and repair vehicles. One of the most recognizable is Kelley Blue Book, the pricing database created in 1928 that many customers and dealers use as a benchmark when purchasing or selling a car.

Luber shared the three traits prospective CDOs should begin to develop if they hope to assume the role.

Have experience in a broad set of disciplines

The job of data chief is complex, and the purview often expands well beyond the core team. 

In Luber’s case, he manages a group of nearly 250 data scientists. But the job also requires an organizational-wide reach to understand what data the company has, and how it can best be shared and used across departments.

That’s where Luber’s background came into use. He spent 13 years at LexisNexis, departing the legal and government information database company as its senior vice president of global products. There, he honed skills in areas including data science, market strategy, commercial negotiations, and public policy.

“I had all these pieces that were coming together for exactly what’s expected,” Luber said. “I don’t know how I would perform in my role without having a balance of experience between the technical and commercial.”

That combination came into use over the past six months, as Luber launched an effort to take an organizational-wide audit of the data within Cox Automotive. He interviewed people across the enterprise to learn what information they were storing and how it was currently being used, interacting with a wide-swath of job descriptions and backgrounds.

Now, with a mandate to use that data to launch new offerings or services, Luber is using his experience in product management to get his team to think externally about where Cox Automotive could add the most value to the market currently to give it a competitive advantage.

“We did not have that muscle fully developed because we were so internally focused historically,” he said.

Recognize both the value and challenges of leveraging data

It’s estimated that companies will spend as much as $187 billion by the end of 2019 on data-driven efforts. That job of understanding the organization’s data repositories and figuring out ways to use it often falls to the chief data officer.

“My goal is for us to have more demands on the team than we have supply,” Luber said.

But as data-driven efforts become more widespread across an organization, it presents new challenges for management. The collection and use of personal information is increasingly subject to stricter regulatory requirements, like the European Union’s sweeping privacy law implemented in 2018.

For the CDO, that means either having a legal background or creating a structure internally to work in tandem with the general counsel or another attorney within the organization. At Cox Automotive, for example, they have a lawyer dedicated to data management that Luber often works with.

“Those [issues] really come very quickly to the forefront when you start doing more interesting things with data,” he said. “We have better governance, better security now that we’ve centralized this function.”

Exercise creativity in how you use data

Since the chief data officer is often a new role for many organizations, it doesn’t come with a roadmap. Instead, CDOs need to think critically about how a company’s information can be used in competitive ways.

At Cox, one of Luber’s first tasks involved taking the vast amount of data stored within Kelley Blue Book to put together a platform that gives customers information on what certain repairs should cost.

“All the science behind figuring out what is fair, what is expected, that was all developed within the data science organization here,” he said.

Now, other brands under the Cox Automotive umbrella are hoping to pursue similar initiatives and they are all tapping Luber’s team. “Demand is probably the biggest signal that we’re making an impact,” he said.

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