When blurring the lines is part of your job description

Published on the 11/09/2018 | Written by Mac Bryla

CDAO_data sharing_Tableau

There can be no ‘us and them’ as CDAO roles blur the lines between IT and business…

Has your enterprise appointed a chief data analytics officer (CDAO)? Those which don’t may soon find themselves out of step with the majority. Indeed, Gartner has predicted that by 2019, 90 percent of large organisations globally will have someone in the seat.

In common with their counterparts around the world, there is also an emergence of CDAO roles in Australian companies. One only needs to look at the banking and finance sector here. Many institutions now have a head of data and analytics, including NAB, HSBC and ANZ Bank. But it doesn’t stop at the banks with companies in many other sectors also taking steps to capitalise on the value of analytics, including Bupa, Telstra, NBN Australia and Origin Energy.

“It means IT staff no longer ‘own’ the data analysis function but there’s potentially great gain for the business.”

Key to gauging the effectiveness of the person who’s allocated to oversee this activity, whether it be on a part-time or full-time basis, is determining exactly what it is they’re responsible for – and who they should report to.

This hasn’t been simple to define.

Traditionally business intelligence has found a natural home in the IT department, under the mantle of the CIO, but as its presence becomes more pervasive across the enterprise, the boundaries have begun to blur.

This is exactly as it should be.

The CDAO’s role should be aligned exclusively to neither IT nor business; it must straddle both in order to be effective. Part of the remit should be to break down barriers that prevent valuable insights being delivered to business units in a timely fashion.

Wherever they sit on the company’s organisational chart, what the CDAO should be accountable for is becoming increasingly clear – harnessing the value of the organisation’s data and ensuring the insights derived from it are accessible to the right people, at the right time and in the right context.

This sounds straightforward enough but, in reality, it can be anything but. In some cases, changing the rules to allow additional employees or business units to access data can be met with uncertainty, doubt and resistance. This is particularly the case when there’s an ‘us and them’ culture, with clear demarcation between IT and business.

Rather than letting these traditional divisions drive decisions around who can access data and perform analytical tasks or where responsibility for governance lies, it’s the chief data officer’s job to think broadly, disrupt the status quo and champion the reasons for doing so.

Their long-term goal should be the creation of a digitally literate workforce and corporate culture, which sees data analysis being performed by employees from all divisions within the business.

Yes, it means IT staff no longer ‘own’ the data analysis function but there’s potentially great gain for the business in their giving some of it away.

With the aid of modern, intuitive analytics tools, many business users are more than capable of sharing the responsibility for data analysis. In lieu of deep technical expertise, they can bring other valuable skills and specialist business knowledge to the task.

The diversity of thought that results from technical and business minds working together can lead to greater innovation – a win for any business in an age where businesses need to be able to adapt rapidly, in order to survive and thrive.

Given their remit is to blur the lines between business and IT, evaluating the CDAO’s performance using traditional IT metrics, such as time taken to load a data warehouse or distribute reports, makes little sense. Rather, they should be judged by the contribution data analytics has made to business outcomes. Yes, it’s harder to quantify but in today’s data driven business world, it’s the only thing that matters.


Mac Bryla, APAC Technology Evangelist at Tableau Software, based in Sydney.

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