The Stack Archive Interview

The evolution of the Chief Data Officer

Fri 2 Mar 2018

Ahead of his appearance at Big Data World London Peter Jackson, chief data officer at Southern Water, and co-author, with Caroline Carruthers, of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook chatted with The Stack about life in the newest and most exciting c-suite position. 

What does an average day look like for a Chief Data Officer?

I don’t think that there is an ‘average day’ for a Chief Data Officer, because I don’t think that there is a standard or average role for a Chief Data Officer. The role is relatively new, but becoming more common rapidly, but just about every Chief Data Officer role is different because of the context they either find themselves in or the context into which they were recruited.

For me though no two days are the same, we have four units in the Data Team: data exploitation, data delivery, data services and data governance so my time is split across these units, but I am also the ‘cheerleader’ for data across the business, leading the change in the data culture and creating the narrative around the data vision.

How have you seen the role evolve to meet an ever-increasing thirst for data?

I have seen the role appear increasingly in organisations over the past three years. It hasn’t necessarily been the CDO role, but there has been a growth in roles that fulfil the same if not similar functions such as Head of Data, Head of Reporting and Analytics, Chief Analytics Officer.

The role is evolving perhaps more in response to organisations having a better understanding of the role they need to fill and the type of exploitation or insight they need from their data. We are now seeing the emergence of the Chief Data Scientist and other senior specialist data roles. Having said that organisations are realising that data is a driver or an enabler of transformation so an increasing focus is being placed on senior data roles.

And how do you expect the role to grow with the rise of AI and machine learning?

ai cdo peter jackson

We are beginning to already see that CDOs are now expected to be competent or capable of leading and delivering AI and machine learning capabilities. In our book ‘The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook’, Caroline Carruthers and I identified four sources or backgrounds for a CDO. These are Governance, Strategy, Technology and Data Science. I expect to see an increasing number of CDOs coming from a data science background over the next five years as AI and machine learning become embedded into organisations.

Skills shortage is a major hurdle in the data analytics field – what can be done to encourage opportunities for training and development?

There are several routes to address this issue. The first is in-house training and up-skilling. This has the distinct advantage that the in-house team probably understand the data and the business. The second route is to hook up with a university and work with them on delivering projects and training. The third route is to find a very good specialist recruiter, and there are some. Finally, if the skills cannot be found you can look at something like analytics as a platform or working with an outsourced partner.

If you were to picture your role in the c-suite in 2028, what would be your main agenda/concern?

Wow, 10 years time! The data and technology world has changed so rapidly in the past 10 years that making predictions about the next 10 years is very risky, and the change will only get faster. However, I think my main concern in the Technology/Process/People triangle would be people. Recruiting and retaining the right people, the smart, questioning, inquisitive and creative minds. Whatever happens with technology we will need creative people.

BIG DATA WORLD_V4Peter Jackson will be speaking at the forthcoming Big Data World London, which takes place on 21st and 22nd March 2018 at London’s ExCeL Centre. To hear from Peter and other Big Data experts from around the world, register today for your FREE ticket.


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