Building an effective data strategy and culture with a chief data officer

27 June 2022 Consultancy.com.au 6 min. read

With data becoming a more important business resource by the day, organisations are increasingly turning to their leaders to ensure data excellence. Mark Fazackerley, Regional Vice President ANZ at Talend, outlines how the growingly popular Chief Data Officer role can help lay the groundwork for an effective data strategy and culture. 

To be successful in data, organisations must ensure a collection of processes, roles, policies, and standards that establish and enforce internal data policies and comply with external regulations while also building a foundation of trusted data.

But often data usage and governance have become something of a battle within many organisations. On one side, business users need quick and easy access. On the other, IT teams prioritise stability, security, and control.

Building an effective data strategy and culture with a chief data officer

Finding an effective resolution to this conflict is a top priority for many businesses. In an increasing number of cases, Chief Data Officers are being installed, with the aim of bringing data focus to the organisation and establishing a healthy data culture for governance.

The scope of the Chief Data Officer

A Chief Data Officer (CDO) is an essential decision-maker who sits at the very heart of a business. They possess a combination of strong technical knowledge and broad business understanding. This allows them to ensure data is accessible by any user while also being secure and effectively governed.

It’s also crucial that a CDO doesn't focus only on the mechanics of moving or connecting data within their organisation. They also need to spend time on broader issues, such as how data can deliver the best possible business outcomes.

A CDO has an excellent chance of success if they partner closely with business teams and use their unique position to champion healthy data. This process begins with democratising data access across an enterprise in a secure and compliant way.

Further reading: Strategy& reports investigates the rise of the Chief Data Officer.

Broadening data access with low code technologies

The use of low-code and no-code technology tools and self-service data solutions has grown significantly during the past few years. This has helped give non-technical users much better access to the data they require.

This democratisation of data empowers staff by giving them the tools they need to apply data to their programs, initiatives, and campaigns. Also, the more experience a team obtains from working with data, the more literate they will become on associated data issues.

However, although it has delivered significant business benefits, this evolving trend has exacerbated the level of digital risk organisations face. Companies frequently integrate data processes manually and suffer from losses in productivity and agility. And many organisations are now more exposed to challenges around data fragmentation, breaches, and compliance failures.

Because they are armed with technical expertise, deep experience with data strategy and business knowledge, CDOs are well positioned to mitigate compliance risk, increase team productivity, and improve overall business agility with healthy data. This process includes establishing rules and protocols for data governance across the organisation, like traceability, business glossary, data literacy, and policy workflows.

To ensure a Chief Data Officer has the organisational support required, they must build a team that doesn’t just think about the data but also has three major traits: the ability to collaborate, a keen understanding of strategy, and a willingness to learn.

Creating a shared understanding of data


It is important to point out that those who work in line-of-business functions don't wake up every day thinking about data governance. They care about getting insights fast, and they want to get the right data embedded within the applications or the processes where it’s needed most.

At the same time, on the opposite spectrum, an organisation's technical data teams are trying to build solutions, often with limited resources and context. They are focused on ensuring data governance guidelines are followed, and that data is secure at all times.

Often, these two groups can sound like they're speaking two different languages. They may use the same terms to refer to different things or different terms to refer to the same things.

At the end of the day, deep domain experts need more than an impressive digital dashboard regardless of their area of expertise. They also need a common agreement on what constitutes healthy data and how it is applied to achieve desired business outcomes.

When there are different pockets of reports, things become challenging to make sense of it all. It’s not just about having the right dashboard. In the end, it comes down to having a common language, and that's where a Chief Data Officer plays a pivotal role.

Data needs to become an organisation’s common language. Teams need to understand the performance trends of whatever they're responsible for and be able to communicate them with others.

To be successful, organisations need a common operational model, a structured rhythm of communication, and a unified culture of data health. Dashboards are just the tools to make this possible.

Building a data culture

While an organisation’s CDO is unlikely to have the budget and the clout to make these changes single-handedly, they can still lay the groundwork for an effective data culture.

CDOs also have an essential role in executing company-wide data strategies that maintain control while enabling the business to achieve more value from their data. This will require building out the community and the infrastructure internally, both in terms of technical infrastructure and relationships between people.

It is still early days in the evolution of the CDO. As their role becomes more widely understood and their efforts focus on the data-related issues that matter the most, the value of a CDO will continue to increase. CDOs driving a healthy data culture while balancing access and control will strike the balance between data usage and governance, helping their organisation achieve successful business outcomes.