Reserve a Seat at the Table for the Chief Analytics Officer

A CAO Explains What Companies Need to Know to Hire an Analytics Leader

From coast to coast, the business world is lauding the emergence of the Chief Analytics Officer (CAO). That’s right, we said Chief ANALYTICS Officer. Perhaps you were thinking about that other C-level role that recently dominated the headlines - the Chief Data Officer? Nope, the CDO is so 2015. Despite it being called the hottest job of the 21st century, it seems a new contender has entered the fray, that of the CAO.

All kidding aside, the role of CDO has certainly not lost any of its luster; it remains a significant position within the enterprise, it’s just that the CAO has now become equally important. While it’s still common to have the same person leading both data and analytics, as companies continue to collect and generate massive amounts of data, it’s becoming extremely difficult for a single person to manage all of it alone. Therefore, many companies are seeking an experienced leader to own and manage analytics. While the CAO and CDO will need to coexist side-by-side, it is apparent that the CAO will play a pivotal role in finding meaning from data.

“I’m a very big proponent of analytics being centralized under a single leader versus spreading it out across the organization,” says Dun & Bradstreet’s own former CAO, Nipa Basu. “Every company with data has analytics in some shape or form, because you have to turn that data into meaningful insight or it’s useless. But whether there’s one person managing it on behalf of another team, or a large group of analysts working independently, there needs to a single leader making the right decisions for the entire organization.”

Basu understands not every organization currently has the resources to employ this new C-level leader, but she believes no matter what title you give this analytics specialist, they need to be given the authority to make the right decisions based on the data, because simply collecting and sitting on a mountain of data is no longer a differentiator.

Ultimately, analytics must be woven into the fabric of the entire business, and without someone like the CAO to manage it, there’s a risk that won’t happen.
Nipa Basu, former CAO, Dun & Bradstreet

“Today, the focus on data has begun to shift,” explains Basu. “The challenge is no longer about how to get more data, but how to make sense of what you have so it can be used as a competitive advantage to grow your business. In order for the analytics function to effectively deliver the types of insight that plays a critical role in the decision-making process, there must be a leader that can help seamlessly share the information with the right people and make sure those in power recognize the value it holds for the enterprise as a whole.” Ultimately, analytics must be woven into the fabric of the entire business, and without someone like the CAO to manage it, there’s a risk that won’t happen. Therefore, today’s forward-thinking organizations recognize the need for this new position. But who is the perfect candidate?


“That’s hard to say,” says Basu. “There are many different characteristics that make up today’s CAO. Some may have very strong mathematical backgrounds, others may be more business savvy, it really depends on what the company does that determines the type of person best suited to own analytics. Some companies use analytics to understand how to drive growth within their organization and would work alongside someone like the CFO to help make profitable decisions. Other companies may be looking to monetize their insights and therefore work more closely with the CEO in that case. It really depends, there is no cookie-cutter approach to the CAO’s job description.” While Basu believes the function of CAO may differ, she does believe there are certain important qualities every analytics leader must have.

The Ability to Get C-Level Support

“The person you task with running analytics will need to understand how to secure buy-in from the C-level to make a real impact,” explains Basu. “I’ve seen the challenges in getting the C-level to provide the budget and resources needed to do my job. A good approach to take to overcome this is to build a business case which clearly quantifies the business value analytics will drive against specific goals. If you can tie everything back to ROI, you will have the ears of the organizational leaders.”

Breaking Down Silos

Even if you’ve attained support from the C-level, it’s critical to partner with cross-functional departments,” says Basu. “Whether it’s sales, marketing, finance, tying the business value that analytics can drive to their specific goals will help strengthen those inter-department relationships. Therefore, the analytics leader must be able to work with many unique personalities. These teams need to feel they are being included in the strategy, so be sure not to just hire a leader, but hire a partner to help turn insights into action. At the end of the day, analytics is only as good as the data you have, and you need to ensure you are leveraging all of it across the enterprise. 

Being a Good Storyteller

“I recently saw a stat that 80-85 percent of business executives who claim to understand analytics actually don’t,” claims Basu. “So the ability to be able to simplify the insights is a critical component of the success of the CAO. Being able to stay on point, avoiding technical jargon, relying on words versus numbers, and clearly quantifying and measuring business value are agreed upon paths to help the analytics group clearly communicate with the C-level.”

Identifying the Right Support

“One of the biggest challenges companies have is understanding how to find the right analytics talent,” explains Basu. “I’ve seen companies experiment with everything from outsourcing and offshoring strategies to partnering with universities to attract PhD candidates. While there are plenty of super smart analytics professionals out there, it can be very difficult to know who has the right qualifications to bring the most value to the team.  A CAO or central analytics leader is the ideal person to build an agile analytics team, which should consist of statisticians, modelers, and computer scientists.”

The CAO will bridge the gap between deriving insights and making them actionable. They have to be both the analytics expert and a business leader.
Nipa Basu, former CAO, Dun & Bradstreet

As data and analytics continue to be the core drivers of business growth, the CAO will not only need a prominent seat at the table, they will need the freedom and resources to help turn analytics into actionable insights for the entire enterprise. “The CAO will bridge the gap between deriving insights and making them actionable,” says Basu. “They have to be both the analytics expert and a business leader.”


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