The Richmond CDO Forum

Fairmont Windsor Park, Windsor, United Kingdom

16-17 September 2024


Unlocking the power of data: the vital role of CDOs in government

The Richmond CDO Forum Blog - 17th October 2023
In an era marked by unprecedented volumes of data and rapid technological advancements, the role of Chief Data Officers (CDOs) in government organisations has never been more critical. The landscape is evolving and the demand for effective data management is on the rise. In this blog, we'll explore the growing significance of CDOs in government missions, their evolving roles and the tools they need to drive transformative change.

CDO 2.0: A shifting landscape

Just a few years ago, CDOs in government were just beginning their journey. However, the relationship between government and data has transformed significantly in the past five years. Data has emerged as a powerful tool to enhance mission performance, touching virtually every aspect of government operations. From optimising public services to training artificial intelligence models, data is the cornerstone of government missions and its importance is only expected to grow.

The new landscape demands a new breed of CDOs who are not merely back-office technology leaders, but integral players in mission enablement. They are leading the way in data-driven success.

Data's ascendance in governments

The explosion of data in government organisations is due, in part, to the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI models. These models have shone a spotlight on the immense volumes of data required for their training. Government agencies, regardless of their specific sector, now consider AI a critical enabler.

In a 2018 Deloitte survey, just 43% of public sector respondents considered AI minimally important for their organisation's success. In 2021, this figure skyrocketed, with 92% of federal and 97% of state respondents in the U.S. agreeing that AI played a crucial role in achieving mission outcomes. These statistics underscore the expanding role of data in government operations.

Government organisations are not just paying lip service to data; they are investing substantial resources. Federal investments in cloud technology, for example, have risen from USD 5.2 billion in 2018 to an estimated USD 8.1 billion in 2021. However, the transformation extends beyond technology; government organisations have developed data strategies, data literacy programmes and data-sharing initiatives. The cumulative effect of these changes is data that creates a real impact on missions.

The evolving role of CDOs

With the growth in data's importance, the role of CDOs in government has also expanded. In 2018, CDOs were at the start of their journey in government. Today, they are an established and essential part of the government landscape.

In the U.S., the number of state CDOs has risen from 18 in 2018 to 31 in 2022, showcasing the widespread adoption of CDO roles in government. Federal initiatives like the Foundations of Evidence-Based Policymaking Act and Federal Data Strategy have mandated CDO appointments and demanded higher standards for data accessibility and quality. Additionally, the Federal CDO Council has been established to promote leading practices for data usage, providing government CDOs with essential resources.

The challenges faced by CDOs

While the expanding role of CDOs in government is promising, it is not without its challenges. As relatively new entrants in government, CDOs often grapple with vague responsibilities and ambiguous expectations from leadership. A 2022 Data Foundation survey found that only 52% of federal CDOs reported having “very” or “completely” clear responsibilities within their organisations. This lack of clarity can hamper their effectiveness in driving change.

Cultural barriers and limited leadership support can also pose significant obstacles to data utilisation. In a 2022 survey conducted by the Federal CDO Council, 44% of respondents agreed that cultural barriers or limited leadership support were hindrances to using data for mission support. This marked an increase from 40% in 2021.

Budget constraints and resource allocation further compound the challenges faced by CDOs. In the same 2022 survey, only 17% of federal CDOs felt they had all the resources required to succeed.

The CDO Playbook: navigating the data-driven journey

Recognising the pressing need for CDOs to overcome these challenges, a new playbook has been developed. Based on conversations with government CDOs and industry professionals, this playbook is designed to shed light on the evolving expectations and responsibilities of the government CDO role. It is structured around four key points in the CDO's journey:

Section 1: Establishing a Strategic Vision

CDOs are instrumental in initiating transformational changes. This section explores the establishment of data offices, execution of data strategies and securing funding.

Section 2: Planning and Alignment

CDOs need to serve as planners, aligning strategies and setting future priorities. This section covers the establishment and implementation of initiatives for defensive and offensive priorities.

Section 3: Partnership Building

Collaboration across the organisation is essential for a successful data journey. This section focuses on establishing data-sharing and partnerships.

Section 4: Driving the Organisation Forward

CDOs play a pivotal role in leading the organisation toward data-driven efficiency and innovation. This section outlines strategies for implementing a data culture and creating data products.

A resource for the future

While the primary audience for this playbook is CDOs in government, the insights contained within are invaluable for professionals in various industries. The journey toward data-driven transformation is not limited to one sector. We encourage all professionals to revisit this resource throughout their evolving data journey.

In conclusion, the role of CDOs in government organisations is evolving rapidly, mirroring the growing importance of data in mission success. Government CDOs are no longer isolated technology leaders; they are vital enablers of change and innovation. As data continues to play an ever-expanding role in government missions, CDOs must be equipped with the tools, strategies and resources to succeed in their pivotal roles. The CDO playbook provides a comprehensive guide to navigating this transformation and achieving data-driven success in the public sector.
This blog underscores the vital role CDOs play in government missions and how they are equipped to meet the challenges of the evolving data landscape. It provides an essential roadmap for the future of data-driven governance in the UK and beyond.

If you’d like to read the full article ‘The chief data officer in government: A CDO Playbook 2023’ published by Deloitte Insights, click here.

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