The new CxO gang: data, AI, and robotics

Hiring new figures to lead the data revolution

A slide taken from one of the speakers at the CDO Summit in London illustrating business drivers and capabilities and how they related to the CDO job.

In that sense, a CDO is the guy in charge of ‘democratizing data’ within the company.

It is not a static role, and it evolved from simply being a facilitator to being a data governor, with the tasks of defining data management policies and business priorities, shaping not only the data strategy, but also the frameworks, procedures, and tools. In other words, he is a kind of ‘Chief of Data Engineers’ (if we agree on the distinctions between data scientists, who actually deal with modelling, and data engineers, who deal with data preparation and data flow).

“The difference between a CIO and CDO (apart from the words data and information…) is best described using the bucket and water analogy. The CIO is responsible for the bucket, ensuring that it is complete without any holes in it, the bucket is the right size with just a little bit of spare room but not too much and its all in a safe place.

The CDO is responsible for the liquid you put in the bucket, ensuring that it is the right liquid, the right amount and that’s not contaminated. The CDO is also responsible for what happens to the liquid, and making the clean vital liquid is available for the business to slake its thirst.” (Caroline Carruthers, Chief Data Officer Network Rail, and Peter Jackson, Head of Data Southern Water)

I don’t want to get into what a Chief Information Officer does and how he differs from a CDO, a CTO, a CRO, or any other roles, but if you want to know more I highly recommend Julie Steele’s free ebook (see here).

A CDO is then the end-to-end data workflow responsible and it oversees the entire data value chain.

Finally, if the CDO will do his job in a proper way, you’ll be able to see two different outcomes: first of all, the board will stop asking for quality data and will have clear in mind what every team is doing. Second, and most importantly, a good CDO aims to create an organization where a CDO has no reasons to exist.

A good CDO aims to create an organization where a CDO has no reasons to exist.

In order to reach his final goal, he needs to prove from the beginning that not investing in higher data quality and frictionless data transfer might be a source of inefficiency in business operations, resulting in non-optimized IT operations and making compliance as well as analytics much less effective.

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  • Relevance (should you hire a CAIO?): you only need to do it if you understand that AI is no longer a competitive advantage to your business but rather a part of your core product and business processes;
  • Skills (how do you pick the right guy?): first and more important, a CAIO has to be a ‘guiding light’ within the AI community because he will be one of your decisive assets to win the AI talent war. This means that he needs to be highly respected and trusted, which is something that comes only with a strong understanding of foundational technologies and data infrastructure. Finally, being a cross-function activity, he needs to have the right balance between willingness to risk and experiment to foster innovation and attention to product and company needs (he needs to support different lines of business);
  • Risks (is a smart move hiring a CAIO?): there are two main risks, which are i) the misalignment between technology and business focus (you tend to put more attention on technology rather than business needs), and ii) every problem will be tackled with AI tools, which might not be that efficient (this type of guys are super trained and will be highly paid, so it is natural they will try to apply AI to everything).
Image Credit: Jackie Niam/Shutterstock

Research Lead @Balderton. Formerly @Anthemis @UCLA. All opinions are my own.

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