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Reconsider the role of business ‘chiefs’

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The move to digital, coupled with the increasing amount of data businesses find themselves dealing with today, has given rise to numerous new ‘Chief’ roles within the business landscape, as CEOs try to steer in the right direction — aiming to achieve sustained competitive advantage.
By Yolanda Smit, regional director (Gauteng) at PBT Group
Some of these include roles such as Chief Data Officer (CDO) or Chief Analytics Officer (CAO) to name a few. While certainly, there is a strong need for such roles within any digitally relevant business, given the tough economic environment local business are operating in, decision makers must start asking if these roles are being considered and deployed accurately within their organisations, for real business success.
Hype, data influx and digital innovation are all terms that have forced decision makers to take a serious look at their technology investments (and quickly) and decide how they are going to ‘shape up’ to avoid being ‘shipped out’. While initially the Chief Information Officer (CIO) role was the one that most businesses evolved in this regard, given the pace at which technology is transforming, this tactic is no longer viable.
As such, we have seen the development of many, very relevant, new roles emerge today — roles that unquestionably provide business value. But one must ask how businesses are fulfilling these roles and whether there is a skills pool to sustain such a diversity of emerging tech-related positions.
According to Gartner, by 2019, 90% of large organisations will have hired a CDO, however, they predict that only 50% will be successful. Being responsible mainly for data, storage and business information, naturally, the role of the CDO has been slanted towards an individual with solid technology experience. Looking at the part the CAO is meant to play, that of analysing the data and turning it into a real business asset, the same technology assumption, in my experience, is made. However, given the need for the CDO and CAO to apply data accurately, to become a real business asset, these roles should become a business responsibility and be business driven in their entirety, in order for them to be truly successful and increase predicted success rates.
Within any business, the CIO is required to have an integral understanding of where the business is going and what its future needs will be. This means that the CIO needs to have the right vision for the organisation. This vision is driven by the business and can only become effective if it is taken on as a larger and integrated business responsibility. We believe that this is also true to the role of the CDO/CAO. Being responsible for the data, that will likely get the business to meet its future business needs/goals/visions, means that this role needs to be business-centric, understand the bigger business picture and should not be filled as solely a technical role or function.
Despite the perceived challenges that this may present to the business, it actually offers numerous opportunities for the business to use these roles as key platforms to differentiate and establish a stronger competitive advantage.
Data will always play a key role in business, but this influence needs to be more than just the facts data represents. Hiring a CDO/CAO in a business capacity role, that evolves into the more technical space, will allow the business to take the insight presented by the data and turn it into a real business opportunity — but for this to materialise, the business aspect of the role needs to be present and of course clearly understood. In doing so, the CDO and CAO then become a more significant player to the overall business strategy and the success of today’s changing business requirements.