Chief data officers go to summer school

Authors of the “Chief data officer’s playbook”, Caroline Carruthers and Peter Jackson, are running a summer school, supported by data governance software supplier Collibra

The authors of The CDO’s playbook are set to run a summer school for chief data officers.

Caroline Carruthers, group director of data management at credit management firm Lowell Group, and Peter Jackson, chief data officer (CDO) at Southern Water, have teamed up with data governance software supplier Collibra to deliver a 10-week course, mostly online, but with an in-person component.

The course offers, they say, “hands-on instruction for the first generation of CDOs, a new and increasingly critical role within many organisations”.

The curriculum is based on their CDO playbook, and the course will be delivered as a series of 90-minute online classes every two weeks, with three in-person events taking place in London and New York. The course will cover such matters as implementing the right technology, tools and team; leading the change; and developing the right strategy, culture and ethics.

Carruthers said she considers herself “extremely fortunate to be part of a first generation of chief data officers – a role that requires a passion for creative thinking and a love of technology to develop pragmatic solutions for interesting challenges”.

“Our CDO summer school combines these key elements, bringing together a community of like-minded CDOs for the first time to create an engaging learning environment for an exciting new generation of data leaders,” she said.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Southern Water’s Jackson stressed the importance of the community-building element of the course among a group of C-level leaders of recent vintage. “At present, there are [only] a few hundred data leaders, at that level, in UK organisations. And there is no well-trodden career path,” he said.

The topic of data, and how trusted it can be, is an increasingly common one at boardroom level, and so someone needs to “own” that element of business decision-making, said Jackson. “And there is a real shortage of people, at that senior level, who combine business acumen with technical expertise. There is no university pumping out CDOs,” he added.

“Our CDO summer school [will bring] together a community of like-minded CDOs to create an engaging learning environment for an exciting new generation of data leaders”

Caroline Carruthers, Lowell Group

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has given data a new prominence in recent years, he said, and “the key principles of GDPR equate to good data management”.

Jackson started his professional career as, in his own description, a “back-end development coder”, and Carruthers as a graduate entrant to the IT function at TSB Bank. More recently, Jackson was head of data at The Pensions Regulator, and Carruthers was chief data officer at Network Rail.

Asked to reflect on what has led to the rise of the CDO as a new role, Jackson said: “Ten years ago, there was the rise of the chief digital officer, and then people realised it was not all about platforms, but about the data.”

Carruthers said the recognition of data as an asset is critical to the emergence of the role: “It comes down to focus. The chief finance officer’s focus is clear. For a chief information officer, their focus is on technology infrastructure. And the CDO is focused on the data of the organisation.”

“At present, there are [only] a few hundred data leaders, at C-level, in UK organisations. And there is no well-trodden career path”

Peter Jackson, Southern Water

And of the recent vogue for machine learning and artificial intelligence, she added: “We cannot not talk about that, but unless we base those on good solid data principles we are building a house of cards.”

For the supporting supplier, Collibra, Steve Neat, vice-president of sales for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea), said in a press statement: “The CDO is charged with the responsibility of maintaining data security and compliance, as well as driving competitive advantage through organisational data. If you are a CDO navigating through uncharted territory, looking to understand your position better and seeking guidance from peers and a community of data enthusiasts, this is the programme is for you.”

He told Computer Weekly that for many CDOs, the role is defensive, focused on security and compliance. “Taking the role to the next level, where it is more on the offensive, generating business value is harder to achieve,” said Neat. 

“This course, which will draw on the actual experience of senior practitioners, will help [data leaders] gain the necessary visibility and authority for data – which can be managed by IT but should be owned by the business. Data governance can only ever succeed with strong business support, and that needs people who can bridge the gap, at the most senior level.”

The supplier has its own Collibra University and is positioning its support for the CDO summer school alongside that, he said.

The 10-week course starts on 28 June 2018. The organisers state: “You must be a current or aspiring data leader to be accepted. Data leaders interested in becoming a participant can apply here.”

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