The ‘Chief Data Officer’ still needs to find his feet in Asia

The ‘Chief Data Officer’ still needs to find his feet in Asia

The lack of clarity and definition on the role of a Chief Data Officer has made it difficult to develop a strong data-driven culture in APAC. In Singapore, this function is especially new and hard to determine.

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The role of the Chief Data Officer (CDO) has evolved over the years, with CDOs being tasked to develop a data strategy plan to drive innovation. In spite of this, this role has yet to be clearly defined in APAC.

In an Omdia study commissioned by Qlik entitled Emergence of the Public Sector Chief Data Officer in APAC, 47% of experienced data executives in APAC have stated that their jobs lack clarity in either job definition, job execution, or both. As opposed to their US counterpart, the CDO role in APAC government agencies do not have a clear definition in legislation – leading to a deluge of job titles without consistent reporting lines.

There is also a lack of understanding amongst government leaders on the value of data when making mission-critical decisions – with only 65% of APAC agencies relying on data insights compared to 93% in the USA.

Regardless, Singapore has shown itself to have the strongest focus on data insights in the APAC region at 80%, although two in five (40%) of government agencies have yet to seize the opportunity to set up a data governance body.

To learn how the role of the CDO could be better understood and how Singapore can bridge the difference in developing a successful data-driven culture when compared with the US, iTNews Asia speaks to Chong Yang Chan, Managing Director, ASEAN at Qlik.

iTNews Asia: The public sector has been undergoing digital transformation for a number of years. Were data-driven initiatives already a focus before the pandemic?

Digitalisation is a key pillar of the Singapore government’s Smart Nation initiative to build a digital economy. Even before the pandemic, the Digital Government Blueprint (DGB) was set up to empower public agencies to embrace data and harness new technologies to better cater to citizen and business needs. Some examples include simplifying business licensing through the launch of GoBusiness and providing a platform for citizens to readily access government services via LifeSG.

Public agencies like The Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) also established a data-driven culture by providing public officers with learning resources and the most up-to-date development tools to enhance their data literacy skills. GovTech has also been hosting an annual government-wide hackathon, ‘Data Arcade Tournament’, since 2018, that challenges public agencies to derive greater value from public datasets and tools.

Right at the start of the pandemic last year, these public sector digitalisation efforts have enabled data-driven technology innovations like TraceTogether and SafeEntry to launch at record speeds to disseminate timely and accurate pandemic-related information to citizens to keep them safe. 

iTNews Asia: How has the perspective towards the value of data changed within the public sector, and what triggered this change in thinking?

The pandemic has triggered and reaffirmed the value of data in making mission-critical decisions across the public sector. The Omdia study commissioned by Qlik reported that 80% of public sector CDOs in Singapore regret not having invested more in more data-driven initiatives before the pandemic hit.

As public agencies prioritise becoming more data-driven, the underlying technology and tools will also need to evolve to accommodate the current challenges that CDOs in Singapore are facing with data, like handling large volumes of data from multiple sources (45%) and analysing the efficient and effective usage of structured and unstructured data (50%).

This can be as simple as adopting data management or analytics software to deliver real-time insights from strategy to implementation. With this digitalisation, public sector organisations will be able to garner a complete picture of the business and possess up-to-date information to trigger immediate action that can accelerate the organisation’s value to serve the community.

iTNews Asia: Why are CDOs in Singapore lagging behind their US counterparts despite leading in APAC, and what is being done to equalise the standing? Is it due to a lack of talent?

There is always room for growth to keep pace and stay ahead of the competition. The Omdia study found that while our data executives carry a wealth of prior experience in the broader government sector, the public sector CDO role is still new to most organisations in Singapore.

As a result, 35% of respondents stated that their jobs lacked clarity in job definition, job execution, or both. This misalignment in job execution hinders the creation of proper data frameworks to further drive data use within government agencies in Singapore (80% vs 93% in the US) when making mission-critical decisions for the public good.

Drawing lessons from our global counterparts, US government agencies have greatly benefited from having the CDO function defined in the legislation to ensure consistency in job titles, reporting lines, and responsibilities.

In fact, another study commissioned by Qlik found that 86% of CDOs in the US understood the expectations for their role and were more advanced in establishing frameworks for cross-agency data sharing. These findings were reported shortly after the US Congress passed an act to formalise the CDO role across public agencies.

I have observed more government agencies in Singapore adopting the CDO title over the years – this is a step in the right direction, but a push to enshrine a CDO’s role and responsibilities into law will help these organisations succeed in data-driven deliverables and springboard our capabilities to a world stage.

iTNews Asia: Whose responsibility would it be to foster a data-driven culture within the public sector, and how would they ensure that the data scientists who would help deliver insights would have the bandwidth to deliver on this information?

The enablement of a widespread data-literate culture should start with the CDO. This means being the leader and greatest advocate of the organisation’s data literacy initiative, ensuring full adoption and buy-in. In the absence of a CDO, organisations should enlist at least one member from the C-suite to champion data literacy in the organisation. Then, employ this three-step process:

  1. Communicate: The foremost step to creating a robust data-literate culture is to have a formal discussion with individuals on the power of data. Here, targeting specific individuals beyond data scientists who already play a role in data-driven decisions or are enthusiastic about working with data may be a helpful strategy to ensure that conversations about data are correctly delivered. This can be as simple as beginning each team meeting with a data point to encourage employees to search for data and increase their confidence in making data-driven decisions.
  2. Assess and train: Establish all employees’ current skill levels and skillsets regarding data through surveys and assessments. Once the evaluation is complete, customise training programs to empower different individuals across the organisation. Companies can also tap on free assessment and training resources readily available online, including those The Data Literacy Project offers.
  3. Iterate: As data rapidly grows in volume and complexity, it is important to continually assess the best way to use it. Companies should regularly evaluate their data tools and make data literacy a prerequisite for their employees’ learning and development. Their reviews can measure this to ensure that they are constantly maximising value from their organisation’s data.
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