Capitalising on the data revolution: The need for CDOs is growing

Extensive research by data science and marketing services company Profusion has revealed that UK businesses are falling behind other countries in the effective use of data.

The situation will become more acute as Brexit, along with full implementation of new Open Banking standards (January 2018), and the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (May 2018), puts pressure on companies to manage and use data more transparently and effectively.

The report analysed the role of the chief data officer (CDO) discovering only 2% of FTSE 100 companies had such a position on the board with just 5% sitting at c-suite level. Yet research from the IDC indicates that 77% of FTSE 100 executives say data and analytics is the most important tech trend of the next three years. The report also suggested that the key attributes of a CDO will need to include diplomatic and political skills, as well as awareness – business strategist.

>See: What to look for in a chief data officer

Compiled via extensive interviews with CEOs, Directors and CDOs from organisations including the Cooperative Group, Zaizi, Guardian News and Media, IABUK and Zonefox, alongside in-depth research, the report uncovers a stark divergence in the understanding, remit and empowerment of the role underlying how UK companies are struggling to manage and use data.


‘Datafication’ demands new ways of thinking and working, hypothesis driven enquiry and evidence based decision making – ‘smart data focus’ to get the data to the right people at the right time and in the right way.

There is no ‘off-the-shelf’ model for businesses to use data effectively – each company needs to develop its own approach and processes moving towards a ‘data driven culture’.
This has led to a crisis of trust and confidence among the British public which requires data processing companies to develop more robust processes for using and analysing data.

The increasing centralisation of data ownership and management will tackle this, and is essential to the single real-time view of data across business functions. And, the strategic management and monetisation of this data will be a crucial source of future growth and innovation.

>See also: The UK’s top 50 data leaders 2017

Michael Brennan, head of Market Engagement at Profusion, said: “When it comes to successfully using data UK companies are at a crossroads. Businesses big and small need to urgently put in place effective organisational structures and processes to deliver on the opportunity data offers.”

“Failure to do so will lead to the UK falling further behind our competitors, more security breaches, potentially harmful mistakes and, possibly, substantial fines for breaching legislation such as GDPR.”

“It’s important to note that GDPR and Open Banking are nothing to be feared, they are designed to increase transparency and empower people.”

Research participant Michael Abtar of IG Smart, said: “[Without] a clear policy, or focus, on data quality, that gives rise to a whole host of risks – banks lose money, hospitals kill people – as a result of not having access to accurate and up-to-date data.”

Game changing potential of datafication

Participants in the report research recognise the strategic importance of the CDO as having a critical intermediary role to play in being an ‘arbiter of truth’ for the organisation, “turning data into something that fuels your business”, comments Catherine Brien, Data Science director, Cooperative Group.

>See also: Data leader on the impact and necessity of data analytics

A CDO must also be a ‘strategic thinker, problem solver and influencer’, adds Abtar.

While Brennan advises: “The chief data officer needs to be highly attuned to the commercial agenda, acutely conscious of the need to demonstrate ROI to, and through, their c-level peers. This requires a collaborative cross-functional approach, using data to open up new revenue streams, drive business efficiencies, customer relationships, performance and growth.”

“However, it is critically important that the CDO must have the support of the whole C-Level, with the CEO driving buy-in to promote a positive data culture that can drive cultural change at a time of profound disruption and economic uncertainty.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...