Sainsbury’s and the Rise of the Chief Data Officer

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Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s have filled their newly-created role of Chief Data Officer (CDO). Andrew Day, former Chief Data Officer and Business Intelligence Director at News UK, has been appointed to the position. He will report to Ed Barker, interim Chief Financial Officer, and will manage a team of 50, including Sainsbury’s existing Business Intelligence, Data Science and Quality Management teams. But what is a CDO, and what does this say about that state of data and business?

What is a Chief Data Officer?

A CDO is a member of the executive management team and manager of enterprise-wide data processing and data mining. They’re responsible for the control and utilisation of information as an asset across the whole organisation.

Until the 1980s, being in charge of data was a hidden, unrecognised part of a business’s operations, and not considered worthy of senior management. Usually it was the Head of Data Processing or Data Processing Manager that took care of data practices across the business, which were roles usually reserved for employees with very technical IT backgrounds and experience.

However, as business intelligence, data processing, master data management and data processing have become more and more crucial to business operations, the role of ‘Chief Information Officer’ (CIO) was created in around the mid-1980s to early 1990s. This was the first time an IT-based role became part of the Board level of companies.

In more recent times, a growing number of leading enterprises, such as Sainsbury’s, are appointing Chief Data Officers to handle data management. Gartner estimates that 90% of organisations will have a CDO by 2019. Many major banks and insurance companies installed the first CDOs following the economic crisis to ensure data quality and transparency for regulatory and risk management and reporting.

Keeping the strategic importance of data properly managed and maintained throughout an enterprise comprises a host of responsibilities, including:

Businesses have access to customer data, market information and predictive analytics, a trove of data that CDOs can utilise, and implement better strategies in which this data can be harnessed.

CDOs can also grow a business’s revenue by establishing a consistent set of definitions, standards and practices. This benefits an enterprise by ensuring consistency on every level, and allows for better informed business decisions.

Thanks to the CDO’s now high-ranking position within an organisation, he or she is ideally situated to inform the organisation about, and push for, investments into new data management technology.

The CDO is also excellently located to take care that the proper resources go into identifying new business prospects.

What does Sainsbury’s appointment of a CDO tell us?

The current trend of major enterprises hiring CDOs highlights the growing importance of data and data management to businesses, especially large businesses in highly regulated industries. The high status of CDOs means that data is now a heavyweight figure amongst executives. This encourages companies to be transparent about the cost components of data and the value that data can play across the enterprise.

One of the main concerns of companies operating in the modern market is the rapidly growing amount of data they have to process. CIOs, who are usually responsible for planning, choosing, buying and installing computer and information-processing operations, aren’t usually responsible for managing data. Nevertheless, CIOs are being inundated with huge volumes of data, and are calling for the hiring of CDOs to take care of this data.

It’s not just CIOs who are struggling; marketing departments are complaining about difficulties with data volume and market insights. Poor data quality, number of data sources, list development time, and time spent on admin are also common data concerns. Companies like Sainsbury’s are showing determination to gain advantage over their competitors by using a systematic and strategic approach to their data. It’s likely that many organisations will follow suit and implement data analytics solutions within the next few years.

The business world is rapidly adopting a culture of data. This is why younger companies don’t use CDOs; for them, this data culture is already embedded into their organisation, and data management duties are more easily spread out between their members. More mature and established companies are still learning the skills, tools and processes to adapt sufficiently, and the employment of a CDO is helpful in this necessary transition.

More specifically for Sainsbury’s, the hiring of Andy Day is a part of Sainsbury’s priority to hone their digital strategy; it’s no coincidence that the role was filled not long after Sainsbury’s announced that their bid to take over Argos was greenlit. Sainsbury’s have not been shy to mention that they are working on their online presence and want to bring it together with its offline presence. Andy Day will be ensuring that Sainsbury’s use data at the heart of their strategy to provide improvements to their services.

This will also help in Sainsbury’s bid to use data to gain a more detailed view of customers, and be able to personalise interactions with them. Sainsbury’s already glean a lot from customer information and use it in different ways, but a CDO would be instrumental in gaining a single view of each customer, and using their datasets to anticipate and satisfy their customers’ needs. Other areas that can benefit from accurately interpreting big data includes the in-store experience, the product themselves, and strategic partnerships.

Bringing Andy Daly onto the Sainsbury’s team is part of a bigger global trend of companies hiring CDOs as a result of finally evaluating data as a vital asset to their business. As we move further into the Age of Information, more and more businesses will be hiring personnel to manage their data, though what is less clear is how the role and responsibilities of such a position will change to suit the requirements of large, complex organisations. What is for sure is that the significance of data and CDOs to handle this data don’t look like they’re going anywhere.