Please Sir, can I be a CDO?

Over the past 2 weeks I have had in-depth conversations with some leading data professionals in South Africa. Let me introduce a few of them:

  1. A Chief Data Officer from a FinTech company that provides credit online
  2. The Head of Data Strategy from a global credit bureau
  3. The Head of BI from a cash handling company
  4. The Head of Data Analytics from a company that works with emerging entrepreneurs in Africa on a money transfer system
  5. The Head of Data & Aggregation from one of South Africa’s largest financial services companies
  6. The BI & Advanced Analytics Director (who happens to be a PhD) from a leading vendor
  7. Directors of a data consultancy – one of which is in the process of researching a book for CDOs

Of these, 3 & 5 have both started developing plans for a move toward a CDO role within their organisations and have presented their cases to their superiors. Their organisations absolutely see the value in using data as an asset and in having someone lead this strategic initiative.

4 is actually nicknamed CDO in his company because of the role that he plays in using data as a critical strategic tool within their company. His company is supremely data-centric and every major decision is made using data.

At the company where number 2 works data is effectively their product so the CEO ultimately performs the role of the CDO.

Hurdle Alert!

I guess the question on your mind is: why aren’t these professionals already CDOs if their organisations are data-centric and/or realise the value of having someone lead the data charge?  It was definitely top of my list of things to ask when I was speaking to them. Just makes sense really.

As we all know nothing happens easily and as I research further there seems to be a common list of hurdles that would-be CDOs need to get over before moving into that hallowed C-level role.

As you can imagine each company has their own specific reasons for not doing but there are some threads of commonality. Let’s explore a few:

  • In South Africa C-level positions are reserved for people who actually act as Directors. Directors, under the Companies Act, have legal obligations and so  moving a Head of Data (as an example) to a CDO adds a layer of complexity and risk to the role
  • The ultimate decision maker – CEO, MD, Board – doesn’t quite understand the value the CDO will bring to the company and how to integrate it with other C-level positions
  • The company is not data-centric: meaning they don’t see they value of data and subsequently the need for a C-level position to manage the strategy around it
  • Data doesn’t have a home in the organisation and the governance component confuses the issue. This comes back to the battle between the CIO and the CDO in terms of who should own the data


It’s Not All Doom & Gloom

I realise the 4-points above make it seem like data leaders have a very tough time ahead before getting to the CDO level. But – a good but! – the important thing is that South African organisations are aware of the CDO role and there are people out there who are Champions of Change.

Everyone I have spoken to so far is incredibly upbeat about the growth of the role in South African companies. Sure it will be a long road but nothing truly significant happens overnight.

In my next post I will go through all the positives, the strategies for overcoming the objectives, the silver linings to the grey clouds.

There is a movement happening…it’s being led by a few right now but the momentum is growing and an army of future CDOs is forming.

The good news for you is that these gladiators of the data world will, for the most part, participate in the CDO Forum Africa next year. They will drive the conversation, they will share their strategies and they will help promote the role of the CDO in South Africa.

It’s shaping up to be an interesting ride folks. I can’t wait until June 2016 when we can all sit down and map the way forward.

Download our report from the CDO Roundtable we held with our Global Advisory Board – HERE

By Craig Steward:

Craig Steward is the Content Director for Corinium’s CDO and CAO Forums in Africa. His research is uncovering the challenges and opportunities that exist for CDOs and CAOs and the Forums will bring the market together to map the way forward for these important roles. For more information contact Craig on [email protected]


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