The Role Of Chief Data Officers in a World Of Data Utopia


Utopia is defined as “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.” However, perfection is  rather illusive and frivolous concept. What is important is the very concept which is ultimately what you hope to achieve with one of your organisation’s greatest assets.

Close your eyes, and imagine a place where information from data lakes cascade seamlessly down the various trenches of your enterprise infrastructure to service the needs of your internal consumers. Where data captured is already cleansed, accurate and fit for purpose. Your customer information is readily accessible and liberated from the confines of disparate siloes into one, fully integrated data warehouse.

Now I want you to imagine the obstacles holding you back from effective Data Governance, falling like dominoes, paving the way for innovation and the ability to capitalise on robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and self-service analytics that’s as intuitive as a Google search. Data science, analytics, management and operations all perfectly aligned with your business strategy and driving value for your organisation. Is this data utopia?


Data Utopia and the Chief Data Officers

The dictionary defines utopia as “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.” However, perfection is rather illusive and frivolous concept. So when I refer to a “data utopia” this is likely to conjure up an array of connotations amongst Chief Data Officers and data executives alike, influenced by their own strategic thinking, experiences and organisation’s prime objectives.  The latter of which, I believe, should be the greatest factor in shaping data initiatives as data strategy should be fundamental to optimising business outcomes.

Which brings me back to the notion of data as an asset that can provide numerous benefits and competitive advantages. However, without a strategic vision to get this asset working to supplement your goals and catalyse value creation further, data runs the risk of becoming a liability.


Why organisations must have CDOs

IBM’s CDO Playbook stated that organisations with a CDO are 1.7 times more likely to have a big data and analytics strategy and most Chief Data Officers are in agreement that analytics and data science will form the pillars of an organisation’s journey to becoming truly data-driven. This is emphasised by Fabrice Otano, Chief Data Officer at Accor who told me that “delivering hot analytics, mainly data visualisation based tools and communication” are amongst his key objectives. Gary Goldberg, Chief Data Officer at Mizuho International further cemented the importance of analytics at our CDO Roundtable by stating, “The CDO should drive the entire data strategy including Data Analytics work”. He then went on to state that “One of the key challenges for a CDO is to ensure that data is made accessible and easy to use.  Users need to be given the tools to extract value from the data”. Hence if CDO’s and their subsequent organisation’s wish is to reach data utopia, is data analytics democratisation the holy grail?

Data democratisation is by no means a new concept, however, moving beyond a centralised data function and working towards the ubiquitous use of data analytics across the organisation certainly has it’s benefits,  with Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies predicting a plateau of productivity in relation to what they call “citizen data science” and “advanced analytics with self-service delivery” in the next 2 to 5 years.


Is Data Utopia an ambitious theory?

Although data analytics democratisation does appear attractive, Graeme McDermott, Chief Data Officer at Addison Lee explored the pros and cons when asked his thoughts on the impact to business performance and drawbacks, “(Data analytics democratisation) It empowers end users to visualise and ask questions of the data to support business challenges. (Drawbacks) The drop off in numeracy in graduates sees more and more people needing hand holding through the most basic of analysis? I still expect CDOs to preside over multiple data sources and tools…commercially it won’t always make sense to do the right thing and centralise data with federated access from single tool.”

I had the pleasure of discussing the role of the CDO with Jon Catling, Director of Global Data Architecture at Las Vegas Sands Corp. where he articulated the CDO as “a transient job, one that sooner rather than later must go away. It serves the purpose of enabling the manifestation of a concept.”

Perhaps the idea of data utopia is a naïve and overly ambitious theory, however, what is important is the very concept which is ultimately what you hope to achieve with perhaps one of your organisation’s greatest assets. What does that look like?

As you re-imagine data utopia, does the Chief Data Officer exist at all or are they perhaps the vehicle which allowed the organisation to reach the promised land?



By Andrew Odong:

Andrew Odong is the Content Director for Corinium. For enquiries email: [email protected]

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