The Chief Data Officer (CDO): Tomorrow’s corporate rockstar

This week I had the privilege of spending time with some of Australia & New Zealand’s Chief Data Officers and up-and-coming data leaders – or as I like to refer to them, our corporate rockstars.

The CDO Forum, hosted by Corinium, provided the perfect environment for an open dialogue on how far the CDO role had come, and sharing expertise on how to successfully drive organisational change to make data a strategic asset across the business.

Some of the key insights from the opening panel discussion included:

  • Adrian McKnight, CDO at Suncorp, touched on the importance of steering the role of the Chief Data Officer to one that is focused on the strategic use of data across the Enterprise, vs. an offensive role who’s sole purpose is to protect against data risk.
  • Kyle Evans, CDO at Corelogic, provided a unique perspective on the global trend that whilst the US has the highest number of Chief Data Officers, in is in fact the UK that has the highest number per capita – reflecting greater adoption.
  • Dr Troy Delbridge, Chief Data & Information Officer at Private Healthcare Australia, shared a unique perspective on how much easier it is to get things executed when the CIO and CDO roles are combined – a trend we see growing particularly in small to medium sized businesses.

CDO Forum Melbourne

These insights were consistent with research recently conducted by IBM into the role of the Chief Data Officer and what it takes to successfully deliver value from data.

There’s no doubt data has become the next basis for competitive advantage.  Take Pratt & Whitney for example – an organisation that some years ago launched the most fuel-efficient airplane engine on the market, providing them with a significant advantage over their competitors.  As the number one cost to airlines today, any incremental benefit in fuel efficiency means significant impact to the bottom line and the ability to deliver a premium customer service.  Two years after the engine took to the skies, Pratt & Whitney faced engineering and environmental tolerance problems, and with sensors generating terabytes of data every hour, they found it very difficult to know whether the tolerance alerts were a real problem with the engine or not.  Given the significant cost to an airline when a plane needs to be taken out of the sky for maintenance, the engine’s ability to deliver fuel efficiency was at risk of being overrun by the cost of unnecessary maintenance.

Pratt & Whitney turned to the data for the next level of competitive advantage.  By analysing three years of engine sensor data, they were able to predict with 97% accuracy whether an engine was at risk of failure and dramatically reduce the need for unnecessary maintenance.  Insight had become their competitive advantage.

Of course this is not unique to Pratt & Whitney.

With over 4.5 Quintillion bytes of new data being generated every day, there comes a significant challenge in how to capture, manage, maintain, secure, govern and derive insight from that data.  But with challenge comes unprecedented opportunity, and the emergence of a new economy where insight is the currency and basis for value creation.

IBM spent time with innovative companies that had successfully derived business value from data to understand what they were doing differently.  There were three key areas where Chief Data Officers from around the world had focused to drive effective change:

  1. Make data a priority
    Chief Data Officers help the business make data a priority in order to leverage it as a strategic business asset.  Collaboration and executive sponsorship is key to creating an enterprise-wide data strategy, where data initiatives are most successful when business stakeholders are included in the transition process and clearly understand the end benefit.
  2. Develop from within
    Companies can dream of cutting-edge analytical capabilities, but those goals will remain imaginary without the personnel to execute their vision.  To combat the shortage of available talent, Chief Data Officers have started seeking and developing skillsets from within the organisation in order to execute their vision.  They look for potential, not perfection.
  3. Free the data
    Companies cannot unlock the full potential of their information if it is isolated in disparate locations.  Chief Data Officers free the data and allow for the combination of data sources to uncover insights, encouraging business groups to share data and provide tools to give immediate, contextualised and integrated access.

And the payoff?  Better business outcomes.

The biggest take away from the CDO Forum was that not all Chief Data Officers are created equal. The role comes in many different forms and flavours with one thing in common – a desire to translate data into tangible business value.

For more information on the role of the Chief Data Officer visit: