A senior leader is responsible and accountable for data across the agency

What is the role of a Senior Data Leader?

A Senior Data Leader is a business role responsible and accountable for enhancing the strategic value of an agency’s data assets. If data is managed successfully as an asset and its use is maximised, agencies can achieve their vision and deliver their functions more efficiently and effectively. In most agencies, this role should ideally be assigned to a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES).

One of the key responsibilities (and challenges) of a Senior Data Leader is to be able to identify, measure and communicate the tangible business outcomes that have been achieved through changes in an agency’s use and management of its data. Evidence of the impact of data is important to create a culture that understands and values data.

The Senior Data Leader will:

  • lead, and be accountable for, the development and implementation of the agency Data Strategy
  • set the standards and approach to data management
  • improve data governance
  • oversee and coordinate data functions such as data literacy, data quality, data architecture, business intelligence, data security and data protection
  • drive data culture change
  • build positive relationships with other agency leaders
  • support and promote staff who work with and manage data

The Senior Data Leader also plays a role in improving community trust in the government’s handling of public sector data. The Senior Data Leader should ensure appropriate safeguards to protect data are in place, as well as improving transparency of the agency’s data activities. A Senior Data Leader may need to consider agency data activities not simply in terms of ‘what can we do?’ (e.g. from a legal or IT systems perspective), but also ‘what should we do?’ (e.g. from an ethical or community expectations perspective).

Having a designated Senior Data Leader does not decrease the importance of the roles that other staff play within an agency. Leadership for data change can come from all levels, all business areas and within all projects. A designated Senior Data Leader provides a central point of leadership to coordinate and focus data initiatives and decision-making.

Putting Leadership into practice – Appoint a Chief Data Officer (CDO) or equivalent

Ideally, all agencies with significant data holdings will have a Senior Data Leader as a separate role (i.e. a designated Chief Data Officer). However, creating a new specialist role is not always possible. The functions of the role are of greater importance than the title or where the position sits in an organisation, and a CDO role could be assigned to the senior executive responsible for one or more related functions such as:

  • information services
  • data analytics
  • digital strategy
  • data management
  • Privacy Champion and/or Privacy Officer (Australian Government Agencies Privacy Code)
  • Chief Information Governance Officer (Digital Continuity 2020)

How does a Chief Information Officer differ from a Chief Data Officer?

A Chief Information Officer (CIO) holds a different role in an agency to a Chief Data Officer (CDO), though in the absence of a specific staff member to undertake a CDO or equivalent role, a CIO can often take on some of their responsibilities.

Traditionally, a CIO leads the IT strategy for an organisation and is responsible for managing technology assets. The remit of a CIO does not traditionally include responsibility for data outside the IT systems. A Chief Data Officer (or equivalent) is responsible for the effective and efficient use and management of an agency’s data holdings. A CDO is not a technological role and should not be focused on the technology side of data.

However, being aware of an agency’s data infrastructure, including IT, is important. The CDO aims to understand the strategic value of data, the safeguards required to protect it and what is required to maximise its use. The role should also guide technological decisions where the protection and security of data are concerned.

The CIO and CDO should work collaboratively as data relies on technology and a great deal of data is associated with technology. Together these two roles can resolve a variety of data-related issues, bringing the perspectives of their expertise to the solution.

Where can I find more information?

Below are a few resources about CDOs in particular and the important role they play in modern organisations:

Questions to ask:

  • How does a Senior Data Leader role fit with our existing governance structures?
  • What type of Senior Data Leader role makes sense for our agency?
  • What will the role be called?
  • What specific duties and responsibilities will the role have?
  • How will the role be formally endorsed?
  • How will the role collaborate with other senior executives, executive and APS level staff to advocate for better use and management of data?