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The Changing Role of the CDAO

As companies in the Middle East and Africa progress through their data journeys, data and analytics leaders are turning their attention to AI, data science and advanced analytics

Written by Solomon Radley

The Changing Role of the CDAO

Written by Solomon Radley on Dec 2, 2019 8:23:19 AM

The proper powers and responsibilities for a CDAO to wield have been a topic of debate in the business world for some years now. However, it has become clear that having someone who is responsible for maximizing the value of a company’s data asset is essential for businesses operating in the digital age.

More than 70 C-Suite data leaders have been hired in the Middle East and Africa since 2012.

“Going back five years ago, data, being data-driven and especially analytics were kind of a ‘nice to have’ for companies,” says Louise de Beer, Head of BI and Data Science at analytics-driven estate agent Leadhome. “Then, if you look at reports from two years ago, innovators started playing with data as a differentiator.”

“I think where we are now is that data is becoming a hygiene factor. If you don’t have it, what are you doing with your business?” – Louise de Beer, Head of BI and Data Science, Leadhome

The number of executives working in senior roles is a simple litmus test for assessing a region’s data maturity. South Africa is a regional trailblazer in this respect, with the UAE in a distant second place.

What’s more, our research suggests that a consensus is starting to form about where the CDO sits in relation to the wider organization. Gone are the days of the CDO reporting into the CIO. Instead, 60% of the CDAOs who responded to our survey answer to their company’s COO, 20% report to the CRO and 20% answer directly to the CEO.

As Mark Nasila, CAO, Consumer Banking and Chief Risk Office at FNB South Africa explains, data leaders need a mandate that spans the whole business in order to effectively drive organizational change.

“The business needs or uses cases are very unique to each business unit,” he says. “What I’ve done is to follow what is called a ‘shared services’ operating model. The strategy is centrally led, but it’s executed in a decentralized way, at a business unit level.”

How Data Leaders Support Business Objectives

The role of a CDAO will naturally evolve with their company’s data maturity.

A company’s first CDAO will initially be concerned with developing a data strategy and laying the foundations for data success. But with this groundwork complete, their focus will shift towards enhancing the ways their organization can extract value from its data asset.

Our research shows that this evolution is well underway in organizations across the Middle East and Africa. A full 46% of data leaders say their companies are in this transitionary phase, with 42.5% reporting that their data teams are focused primarily on offensive initiatives.

“My key responsibility is helping the risk space use data as a capability or an enabler to help the bank be more efficient, proactive, self-assess risks and in general outthink criminals” – Mark Nasila, CAO, Consumer Banking and Chief Risk Office, FNB

Hartnell Ndungi, CDO at Absa Bank of Kenya, explains: “As people start visualizing their data better, they start asking questions like, ‘What will happen in the future?’”

“In South Africa and East Africa, what I’m seeing is that 90% of CDOs are ‘level one’,” he continues. “[They] are focusing mostly on data management, data protection and data privacy.”

He adds: “I’m also seeing a few CDO 2.0s, who are also able to talk about solutioning and coming up with dashboards and analysis to ensure that you’re able to visualize and present data better, and very few CDO 3.0s.”

The vast majority of our survey respondents say the purpose of their role is to drive business performance through advanced analytics. Building a data science capability was the second most frequently cited ‘purpose’, tied with identifying opportunities for AI adoption. Just 26% of respondents say the purpose of their role is to implement sustainable data management and governance practices.

Data leaders are clearly looking to the future when it comes to articulating the purpose of their roles. But some may be ignoring or downplaying the traditional data challenges that are still present in many organizations.

They will need to balance their advanced initiatives with more foundational investments to give their data strategies the best chances of success.


This article is an extract from our State of Data & Analytics 2020 MEA benchmarking research. Click here now to access the full report and discover how the region's data and analytics leaders are working to maximize the value of their organizations' data assets.