Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are becoming increasingly important leaders in the C-suite, a new IBM study reveals. The study includes responses from more than 3,000 global CDO’s, senior executives responsible for the utilization and governance of data across the organization.
“They’re the most senior executives responsible for data quality, data governance, data strategy, data management. The CDO role is becoming a pivotal member of the C-suite,” said Ashek Mahmood, senior partner in data and technology transformation at IBM Canada.
Mahmood says the CDO role has been an emerging role over the past five years, but across the globe, they are becoming “instrumental”.
A 2021 report found that the growth of the CDO role in large firms has surged in recent years. In the 2021 NewVantage Partners survey of large, data-intensive firms, 65 per cent said they had a chief data officer in place. This is significant growth from the 2002 numbers, when the role was first established, and much higher than the 12 per cent of firms with a CDO in the NewVantage 2012 survey.
In addition, IBM’s study revealed that Canada is ahead of the rest of the world, with 87 per cent of CDOs in Canada being included in senior executive conversations and decisions, compared to the global average of 67 per cent.
“This emerging C-Suite role is more critical than ever, because digital transformation is at the forefront of the business priorities.“ Mahmood added.
According to Mahmood, as AI systems become more and more popular, the role of the CDO is increasing in importance.
“Organizations are considering data as a strategic asset for digital transformation, especially when combined with artificial intelligence, because that can give you key business insights to your critical business processes,” he said.
IBM’s study found that more than half of Canadian CDOs say they are making better and faster decisions by applying AI to their data. Sixty seven per cent of Canadian CDOs are applying AI and machine learning to unlock value from data, compared to 60 per cent of global CDOs.
In addition, 78 per cent of Canadian CDOs are applying automation, compared to 61 per cent of global CDOs, and 77 per cent are using hybrid cloud technology, compared to 62 per cent globally.
However, the study also found that while CDOs are using AI and data, only 38 per cent report they are using AI to automate decision-making.
Mahmood said that this will start to change as organizations begin to develop their solutions to ensure there is no unconscious bias within the AI solution.
“CDOs, as well as the entire organizations, are now busy creating solutions that create a diverse solution with diverse teams, and have a human at the end of the workflow to ensure that there’s control… that’s why it’s not fully automated,” he said. “But as we start to get into more teams that are diverse, we’re going to start to let more workflows be fully automated without any human intervention.”
Lastly, IBM’s study revealed that data security is a top concern for CDOs in Canada, with 76 per cent of Canadian CDOs stating data security is the most critical responsibility of their role.
“One of the most pressing challenges they have is the reliability of the data and ensuring that it meets all the regulatory barriers,” Mahmood said.
This is partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the amount of work that moved from onsite to remote or hybrid essentially overnight, he said.
“So that created a whole fluid movement of data. And that is why it’s very important for the CDOs to ensure that privacy and security thread throughout the entire data ecosystem and digital ecosystem.”
Mahmood added that it’s important that CDOs, along with organizations, have strong data governance policies, and be well versed in emerging tech like quantum encryption.
“As quantum is becoming more mainstream, basically, the cybersecurity world will use quantum computing and it will be a new challenge. So everybody needs to be what we call ‘quantum safe’, and that work starts right now.”