Peter Jackson on the CDO

“I want to see a CDO in every company”

Peter Jackson

Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Exasol

Peter Jackson, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at performance analytics platform Exasol, has joined The Data Dreamer team and will be contributing regular stories and insights from the world of data. Here, he charts the emergence of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) role against his own evolving career – which has so far spanned several decades.

I have always been fascinated by data, a specialism in my degree was data from remote sensing (satellite imagery) and the fabulous visualizations that are created. Now, with a career in data spanning decades, I can look back and see that my journey to becoming a chief data officer (CDO) was marked by a series ‘light bulb moments’ – those instances when you suddenly gain clarity, as if the light has been turned on in a darkened room.

It all started after I’d spent several years as a Business Analyst – skills from which I use almost every day as a CDO – just before the internet arrived (that shows my age!). The rest, as they say, is history. On with the light bulb moments…

First light bulb moment: This whole ‘internet’ thing is going to be huge. This was when I was a Business Analyst in my mid-thirties. It lured me first into coding, then becoming a developer and eventually working my way up to the position of chief operating officer (COO) at a software development company.

Second light bulb moment: The value is in the data not in the software. With this realization, I left software development and moved to creating data strategies. It was becoming clear that organizations needed guidance on how to use the data within their platforms to gain insights, improve operational efficiency and deliver customer delight. The platforms, at times, delivered nothing!

Third light bulb moment: Every organization needs a CDO. To deliver a data strategy, organizations need someone who is responsible and accountable for their data – and for delivering value and insight from that data. This was my first step towards becoming a Chief Data Officer. This was early days and the position wasn’t really established yet, so I became the first Head of Data at The Pensions Regulator, a non-departmental public body. After that, the first CDO of Southern Water, and then the first Group Director of Data Science at Legal and General, a financial services group.

Fourth light bulb moment: Help was needed. I realized that the CDO role was so new that there weren’t any ‘how to’ books on the subject. So joined forces with Caroline Carruthers and wrote The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, to support all those new CDOs and aspiring CDOs. I was on a mission! In the new digital world where every organization is undergoing some sort of ‘digital transformation’ every organization needed a CDO. The data, it was becoming clear, was just as important as the code. As such, we started the CDO Summer School, which now has an alumni of more than 400 around the world.

Fifth light bulb moment: Data should be understood beyond the data crowd. So far Caroline and I had only been talking to our data tribe. We needed to get the message out wider: to the other C-suite executives and other senior management. So we wrote a second book, “Data Driven Business Transformation” aimed squarely at the boardroom.

Sixth light bulb moment: The universal problem. This brings us to today. The penny has dropped – more and more organizations are appointing CDOs. In fact there is a really hot market for CDOs and they’re an in-demand bunch. But they’re all facing similar, if not the same, problem: how to liberate data from legacy infrastructure and technology, so that the value can be released from the data through BI and analytics.

In short, data democratization. 

This final light bulb moment brought me to Exasol: if we are on the journey now to have a CDO in every organization, let’s arm them with the best technology to solve this universal problem and enable data democratization.

A few questions:

So, what does the role of the CDO mean to me?

The CDO is still a relatively new role and there hasn’t been any clear career or professional path for people to follow. A CDO is the most senior person with an organization who is accountable and responsible for data – like the CFO is for the finances of an organization. The CDO must both look after the data (data governance) but must also enable the business to get value from the data (data analytics).

This means that a CDO has a scope of interest which ranges from data governance, data management, data architecture and data engineering to business intelligence, advanced analytics and data science. The CDO role is becoming increasingly important to organizations as there is a drive to become data enabled. It’s very broad remit indeed.

In terms of the qualities of a CDO, Caroline and I identified seven secret ingredients of the CDO in our first book:

  1. Communications
  2. Relationship building
  3. Specialism in data
  4. Strategist / tactician
  5. Credibility
  6. Passion for data
  7. …and luck!

In the second edition of the first book we added an eighth ingredient: Resilience. Perhaps the lessons of doing the job for a few years made us realize that because the CDO needs to create a data culture and raise data literacy, they need to have staying power.

Why did I join Exasol?

I’ve partly answered that question already with my sixth light bulb moment. I believe that Exasol has the technology to solve the universal problem of the CDO – that of democratizing data helping business stakeholders to process and investigate data at speed.

What do I want to achieve? 

My goal is to bridge the gap between the product and the enterprise. I want to be help ‘Exasolians’ – our team – talk about the product as a value proposition, as a problem-solving proposition, as a strategic solution for the CDO. On the other hand, I want to help all CDOs solve the universal problem and empower their businesses with data.

Where does the opportunity lie in the coming years?

The speed of data innovation and the demand for data innovation is accelerating. The opportunities lie on the crest of this wave both in terms of machine learning, AI and technology. I think there are huge opportunities for business who can evolve their business operations to take full advantage of these innovations.

The question now is: what’s going to be the next light bulb moment?

I can’t wait to find out.