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The rise of the Chief Analytics Officer

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Data is all around us. Whether kept on-premise or hosted across a multi-cloud environment, data and its analysis have become some of the most critical business deliverables today. However, given the rapid digitalisation efforts many organisations have embarked on over the past 12 months, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) have been focused on ensuring a distributed work environment is in place and running optimally. This has resulted in the emergence of a Chief Analytics Officer (CAO) or Chief Data Officer (CDO) to fill a vital gap in the business.

This article from Forbes, examines the role of the CAO in greater detail. The underlying question it seeks to address is whether an organisation can gain more by keeping the CAO and CDO roles separate or become agile when combining data and analytics under one individual.

Think beyond the designation

What is of interest to note in the article is that it cites Gartner and other experts noting that the title is inconsequential. It all comes down to whether the work is done, and data is effectively handled and analysed. In many ways, I feel this point is a true reflection of the variety of positions we see in our industry especially when it comes to how the roles are advertised and filled. But, as the article states, the mission is what is important.

The author writes that CIOs have been handling technology development, vendor relations, and data management and analytics. However, the author believes that given today’s business environment, this can result in two problems – becoming overwhelmed with data and being criticised for being too slow to leverage analytics. The following sentence perhaps provides a perfect summary of what a CIO needs to contend with today: “When the business finds itself at a competitive disadvantage because the analytics are not in place for insight and action, the finger points to the CIO.”

So, in my mind splitting the CAO and CDO roles would be necessary if the volume of data and the depth of analytics is so vast that you need two separate focused executives to manage each. In a smaller, less dynamic organisation that still needs to be data-driven, the same person can fill both roles, regardless of the job title.

About the skills

The article also suggests several skills to consider for these individuals (or individual). There are some good ones here that include strategic thinking, understanding the business, and communication and leadership skills.

However, I would stress that together with a technological understanding of analytics and data science, there needs to be a good understanding of data management as well. This must encompass aspects like data inventory, data cataloguing, data governance, data lineage, and so on.

The focus must therefore be more on the skills and how data can best be handled and analysed, than on a job title. The time to change is here and companies must embrace this across all levels of the organisation and not just focus on enabling distributed working.

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