Julie Richards

Chief Data Officers: Who needs them?

As data assets grow larger and more valuable in our digital world, managing data is also becoming more complex. As a result, two of the top governance challenges facing organizations today are how best to manage the use and value of data assets, and who is best suited to take those responsibilities.

The role of Chief Data Officer (CDO) has generated a lot of debate recently. At the most basic level, it’s not too controversial to say that someone should have the job of ensuring that an organization’s data is created, stored, protected and used to best effect in compliance with the latest privacy and data protection regulations. But then it gets a little more complicated. 

We’ll leave aside the issue of how many C-level titles should exist in a single organization. The questions are really whether there should be one or more executives responsible for data and analytics, and where in the organization the function(s) should reside. 

CGI agrees with the industry experts who say that yes, the CDO or equivalent role is becoming essential to most organizations, and that the person in that role should be a collaborative and independent partner of both the central IT organization and the individual lines of business.

The reasoning is that, in order to fulfill the essential mission of getting the greatest value from data for the whole organization, it’s necessary to cooperate—and even negotiate—with each of these parts of the organization, without being captive to any one of them.

This enterprise-wide reach is critical. Without it, there’s the risk of:

  • Creating more data silos as each business area controls its separate domain, and, in worst-case scenarios, refuses to have the data it “owns” used for organization-wide benefit
  • Inefficient and more expensive management of data
  • Failure to realize the full value from data
  • Non-compliance with regulations and guidelines for data privacy, protection and use

In our experience, conflicts between lines of business and IT departments about the analytical use of data are one of the most common areas of disagreement. The data governance function needs an executive sponsor who can bridge the gap between business and IT, with cross-divisional authority over data-related matters. Having this executive role also provides gravitas—adding weight to the critical importance of managing data as an asset for the benefit of the whole.

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The need to unlock the value of data continues to be among the top 5 business priorities for clients participating in CGI’s Voice of Our Clients program, as published in the CGI Global 1000 outlook. This, combined with constant hype and accelerating change in data technology and regulations, makes it no surprise that data and analytics executives face growing pressures from their stakeholders, who have nearly insatiable data needs, as illustrated in the diagram to the right.

Managing expectations is thus a key responsibility of the top data and analytics executive, along with:

  • Providing top-table authority for decision making on data-related matters
  • Setting in motion the changes required to get maximum value from the enterprise data asset
  • Manage data innovation, change management and monetization of data

On the question of “who needs a CDO?”—more and more organizations are becoming data-rich and insights-led. A few years ago, we could say that consumer-intensive industries such as retail banking and telecommunications were data-rich and needed CDOs, but now, data from transactions, sensors, devices, social media and documents are available to everyone, so all organizations are data rich and can get value through analytics, if they choose. As a result, nearly every organization can benefit from the appointment and empowerment of a CDO or equivalent executive role.

Data governance organizational model

No matter what they are called or where they sit, CGI uses our Data2Diamonds approach to help CDO-level roles succeed in their mission of effective management and governance of data assets, and deliver maximum value to the organization from those assets. 

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