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DMS Review: Chief Data Officers Rise Above Operations to Set Data Management Strategy

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The role of chief data officer (CDO) has become increasingly prevalent in financial services firms over the past couple of years. It has no exact definition, but tends towards responsibility for strategy and change, rather than data and operations.

Discussing the role of the CDO and how to measure the success of the data management function during a panel session at the A-Team Group Data Management Summit in London, A-Team Group editor-in-chief Andrew Delaney asked panellists why the role has been introduced and what it entails.

Colin Hall, managing director and CDO at Credit Suisse, said: “Many tier one banks recognise that data is an asset, so someone is needed who is passionate about data and can persuade the CEO to invest. The role is creative and strategic, not operational, and it must be connected to the senior management team that is making decisions. The CDO should be approachable and should be able to bring teams together and insist things happen. At Credit Suisse, we have lifted data management teams from many places into one team and also created a change team. If someone wants reference data, they come to me.”

Noting that the role is still a little nebulous, Rupert Brown, lead architect in the CTO office at UBS Investment Bank, said: “The CDO role should cover data conformance, optimisation, security and opportunity to use data for profit. The role has many dimensions and I am worried that it could be a rebrand of the data stewardship role.”

Nigel Matthews, director of master data strategy and change at Barclays, added: “I would expect a CDO to manage issues such as standardisation, data principles, definitions and quality metrics across an organisation.”

Acknowledging all these attributes, Neill Vanlint, managing director EMEA and Asia at GoldenSource, suggested there could not be a single definition of the CDO role as it would depend on the type of organisation, be it a bank, exchange or asset manager, and the region in which the organisation operated.

Delaney questioned whether regulators push firms to appoint a CDO. Hall responded: “Regulators will never insist on there being a CDO, but they may suggest it might be a good idea.”

Turning to performance measurement of data management and the CDO, Matthews said: “We look for tools to help us measure data management. Key metrics cover data quality, how much data has been consumed, links to data sources so that we can switch them off or ramp them up, and governance. We are shifting from Key Performance Indicators to Operational Leading Indicators that look forwards rather than backwards.”

Picking up on the senior level of the CDO role, Patrick Dewald, director at Diaku, said: “The CDO does not handle only data problems, but also business problems.” Hall concurred, saying: “That is a point that should not be underestimated. The CDO needs to prove benefits to the business. If the CDO can do that there will be funding, if the CDO can’t, there will be reference data fatigue. If the CDO is doing a good job, budgets won’t be cut and the CDO will be asked to do more.”

Panellists agreed that the CDO role is moving data management from being a technology issue to being a business issue, but pointed to the need for close connection between the two. Matthews explained: “The need is for good stakeholder engagement so that there is an understanding of exactly what is needed. Business cases can then be created and work programmes to fulfil them. To drive regulatory change, the CDO must be at the regulatory change table and be part of budget allocation.”

Wrapping up the session, Delaney asked what roles should make up the CDO’s team. Hall concluded: “I have a production manager, a head of data architecture, a manager for clients, another for products and another for data governance, which means I can lead strategy and change.”

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