Kyle Evans is chief data and analytics officer for property information services firm CoreLogic's Australian operations, which formerly went by the name RP Data.

The company takes data from 600 sources and combines it to produce intelligence for firms with an interest in property.

Evans estimates he is one of 400 chief data officers (CDOs) worldwide. Though most find themselves in the US or UK, the number of CDOs in Australia is rising.

"This role is growing at a very fast rate," he told delegates of the recent Gartner BI, Analytics and Information Management Summit.

"Globally, the number of CDOs seems to be doubling every 18 months, and the forecast is that pace will continue for the next three-to-five years.

"This is a role that is getting a lot of traction."

Most CDOs are presently found in banks, telco providers, insurance firms and government - all recognised as information-intensive industry sectors.

Evans himself is RP Data's second CDO; he has held the role over three years, and RP Data were the first in Australia to create a CDO role some seven years ago.

But what is a CDO and do you need one? Here are five things you need to know:

1. It's a question a lot of people are asking

"I get regular calls from people who just want to know what do I do, what do I need to do, what are my challenges and so on," Evans said.

Those calls even extend to the headhunter that placed Evans in the CDO role.

"[They] called up about 12 months after to say, 'Tell me what you're doing now'," he said. "Headhunters and recruiters in general are very interested in this role."

2. He's a data champion...

"There's a real need to be a bit of an educator and at some points an evangelist on the data - being able to articulate ways in which data can be used, and explain to the business what we have, how we can use it, and what it is worth," Evans said.

"There's a lot of time I spend internally and externally with customers and clients explaining all about our data and the capabilities of it."

Though data infrastructure design falls within his remit, its operation is an issue for IT.

"I don't worry about networks, servers or applications - I just worry about the data," he said. "Have we got complete control of our data end-to-end?"

3. ... And an executive

"This is an executive-level role," Evans told delegates. "It needs to be in the upper echelons of the business, typically reporting into the CEO and managing director."

One reason for this is that the role tends to be commercially-driven.

"You need to understand the commercial drivers of the business and have the clout to get all parts of the business and data together."

4. He changes minds

When a CDO starts, one of the major challenges is creating an enterprise view of data.

"You have to change the mindsets of a lot of people," Evans said.

"Typically, organisations have pieces of data dotted around the business. I've had to make a number of changes since I've started - changing the way people think about data and changing people's attitudes towards owning data, to create a federated view."

5. And struggles to find skills

In a fast-growing area, skills can be expensive to source and difficult to vet.

"You will meet a lot of people who say they can do wonderful things with data," Evans said.

"Some data scientists think that means you know how to use Excel, and some people will talk about what they have done and you find out they were just part of a team rather than having done it themselves."

Evans said that while he had recruited a small team of very capable people, including some with "very strong data architectural skills", he is also recruiting "keen young graduates" and people with a handful of years' experience - including five PhD students - and exposing them to a steep learning curve.

"The biggest challenge you've got then is hanging onto them, but there's other strategies you can work with there."