Could a Chief AI and Data Officer provide the momentum your AI journey needs?

06 Apr 2021

Could a Chief AI and Data Officer provide the momentum your AI journey needs?

To benefit from all that AI can do for your organisation, it must move through the portal of transformation to a culture that is truly data-driven. This will necessitate technology leaders with unique qualities.

For the past decade, companies have been grappling with how to best prepare for a future we all know is right in front of us and for a small number is already at play; a fully data-driven and technology enabled AI future.


To look at it fundamentally, a company’s AI future is dependent on a successful interplay of data, analytics and an organisation-wide data-driven culture. A company’s data must be carefully acquired and integrated and its analytics expertly delivered. But probably the biggest factor of all is that its leaders must overcome the challenge of understanding and welcoming a world founded on data where AI can thrive with careful orchestration.

Data: “It’s not me, it’s you”

Studies consistently show that, though the capacity for transformation through technology and data is unlimited, data leadership and organisational data culture are not yet established enough to fuel the AI engine to its potential. Until these are more defined and transformed, AI will be a challenge for most companies. 

The 2021 survey by New Vantage Partners assessing companies’ success with big data and AI does show significant movement compared to previous years. 96% of respondents (76% of whom are Chief Data Officers, Chief Analytics Officers or both) reported successful outcomes and 92% believe the pace of big data and AI investment is accelerating. This is a 40% increase on the same answer a year ago.

Deloitte, in their 2020 global State of AI in the Enterprise survey also found optimism. 75% of their respondents expect AI will transform their organisations within three years, an 18% improvement on 2018.

92% of the challenge to becoming data driven is people, business processes and culture, not technology.

But these figures can be misleading taken out of context. They seem to paint a picture of AI-ready organisations, but the reality is many  are not. The recent NVP survey shows significant decline in progress with the use of data. Just 24% say they have created data-driven organisations, a decline from 37.8% in 2020. 39.3% manage data as a business asset, half what was reported the previous year. It seems companies in the sectors surveyed have also lost ground in gaining a competitive edge through the use of data. Just 41.2% compete using data and analytics and 48.5% use data to drive innovation.  

Organisations are not data driven    

Data cultures are slow to thrive. In a data-driven business, data insights become native to the organisation and all its members. Though in an ideal world inspiring Chief Data and Chief Analytics Officers would lead change in this direction, it’s often too big a transformation for the levels of authority and influence they hold.

The reality is that the building blocks that are at the basis of successful AI strategies are not in place in most companies. The foundations necessary for the culture in which AI can flourish are vastly different to current working practices and mindsets. Business processes, communications, skill sets and organisational alignment need to be adapted to encourage a data mindset.

Does your executive team understand the data leadership requirement?

The role of Chief Data officer, which I formerly held, has been travelling along rocky terrain for the past 10 years. Understandably, there may be a lack of deep understanding of the CDO’s scope and potential by employers, even though they know they have an acute need for them. The brief the CDO follows therefore often lacks clarity on responsibilities, focus and scope of influence.

CDOs have been going through the growing pains of the role over the past decade. The short tenure of the position and frequent moves among this cohort might make it look like success is not being achieved. But the lively demand which ensures they are quickly snapped up creates scarcity and seems to believe any doubts in their capabilities. The answer to this paradox is in the terrain their role inhabits.

A CAIDO could bring about the turning point your AI journey needs

Our recent Applying AI – Artificial Intelligence for Boards report compiled with the Initiative for Applied Intelligence, Germany, emphasises that ‘AI initiatives need orchestration and strategic alignment on a company-wide level…’ and recommends the exec team should be strengthened by a dedicated role to lead the AI journey. Specific focus on AI projects can help tackle problematic issues more effectively, raise important competitive issues in strategic discussions and point out new opportunities and risks. 

A dedicated CAIDO role set up to lead the AI journey could be the catalyst most companies need to reap AI’s advantages.  

Even for ‘digital native’ companies, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a step change and the role of a Chief AI and Data Officer in the company board is critical - not only to challenge the status quo from an ‘AI First’ perspective but also to clearly message the importance of AI to the rest of the organization and global top talent that supports this step change.”

Ralf Herbrich, SVP Builder Platform and AI at Zalando

This leader faces the challenge as a cross functional transformation officer without explicit authority and is therefore fully dependent on a clearly expressed commitment by the CEO and CHRO to the AI vision and mission.

A big ask? Unlimited rewards

An advantage to acting with domain independence, though, frees the CAIDO from bias when establishing priorities. Rather than the specific goals within domains, he/she acts to engage all departments as unified stakeholders with an eye on the overall future vision. 

The CAIDO serves as the sparring partner for other functions, raises important competitive issues in strategic discussions, and points out new opportunities and risks.

Naturally, there is a scarcity of candidates with data and AI expertise, who can also analyse and challenge the status quo from an AI perspective.

It takes deep functional knowledge to recognise the skills, focus and leadership gravitas needed for this role. That’s what I and our team are eager to help you with. I understand what kind of futures can be realised when businesses gain traction in their data and AI journeys. We are committed to finding the kind of leader who will help you to get there and beyond.