As organizations globally come to recognize the increased importance of data and technology issues in their day-to-day operations, there’s been a rise in high-level positions devoted to integrating IT into business strategies.  At more and more companies, the IT director is now a C-level position–not middle management.

This began with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) position, but in the last year or two, a new job title has arisen: Chief Data Officer (CDO).  According to the Chief Data Officer Club, there were roughly 75 CDOs in 2011, versus an expected 500 or so by the end of 2013.

Contrary to what one might expect, these are coming to be seen as distinct positions.  While implementation varies from firm to firm, in general, the CIO is viewed as being responsible for the technology itself, and the CDO is more concerned with business planning.

While the two positions are seen as lateral, the CDO is more of a “people person” or interlocutor, helping to formulate and communicate IT policies in a way that the rest of the company can relate to.  CDOs also are often found in advertising and marketing departments, focusing on using tech to build bridges with consumers.

This shift is also creating new opportunities for CIOs and IT directors to diversify themselves.  Previously, the head of IT was effectively a dead-end position in terms of promotion prospects.  An IT manager, at the end of the day, could look only to bigger IT management positions at other firms.

Now, a CIO can shift into a CDO position, allowing that person to gain the operational and planning experience necessary to justify promotions into upper-management positions such as VP roles.

Why is this significant?  As technology continues to dominate the business world, the need to be able to quickly adapt to changes in technology, marketing, or consumer behavior becomes ever more important.

Consider, for example, the Clio-winning Oreo Tweet during the 2013 Superbowl power outage:  In the space of less than half an hour, one of the largest consumer food brands in the world managed to conceive of, approve, and implement a new advertising graphic before the outage could even be resolved.

Such flexibility is rare in businesses, but a skilled CIO/CDO crossover exec would have the combination of tech and people skills needed to pull off similar stunts.   In a high-speed consumer environment, that may be exactly what firms need to remain relevant going forward.