Sergey Nivens - Fotolia

Chief data officer role advances enterprise data governance

With organizations of all sizes coping with the impact of COVID-19, the importance of enterprise data governance and chief data officers is coming into sharper focus.

In the COVID-19 global pandemic era, organizations increasingly must be data-driven and agile. Enterprises also need to have the right processes and policies in place for enterprise data governance.

In many organizations, the person in the chief data officer role (the CDO) is tasked with responsibility for data and enterprise data governance, but that's not all that CDOs do. CDOs can also play a critical role in helping organizations make data-driven decisions.

Sandeep Uttamchandani is no stranger to the chief data officer role. On April 1, he was named CDO and vice president of engineering at Unravel Data after previously working as chief data architect at Intuit Quickbooks. Uttamchandani is also chief co-chair of the CDO Executive Summit.

In this Q&A, Uttamchandani outlines the chief data officer role and its responsibilities, and the opportunities that CDOs can create for modern enterprises.

Why did you join Unravel Data and what's the opportunity?

Sandeep Uttamchandani: The back end of all the innovation in ML/AI [machine learning/ artificial intelligence] that you hear about is fueled by data. When you think about data and data processing pipelines, it's an extremely difficult problem out there.

The mission I started at Intuit was, how do you make it self-serve? How do you democratize it, for end users? Unravel just felt like a natural extension. So the mission of how you make things self-serve and really democratize it for end users.

Sandeep UttamchandaniSandeep Uttamchandani

Unravel is essentially APM [application performance management] for big data. Unravel has multiple levels of automation, with single pane of glass visibility for operations, assets and reports as well as recommendations and tuning.

I have a dual role as both the VP of engineering, focusing on the next-generation products that we build, as well as being the chief data officer, looking at how do we align with the community of data users out there, including data architects and CDOs.

How do you see the chief data officer evolving?

Uttamchandani: That's a very interesting question, because it's one of those areas where there's no single definition for what a CDO does. In all the gatherings and especially at the CDO Summit, it's a topic that always gets everybody engaged.

There are basically three big buckets in the CDO role, and depending upon where you are in terms of the size of the company, the percentage of time you spend in each bucket will shift.

We have silos upon silos of data and there's no dearth of data. Though enterprises are data-rich, they are information-poor.
Sandeep UttamchandaniCDO, Unravel Data

The first bucket is about data and enterprise data governance and understanding where all the data is residing within the company. We have silos upon silos of data and there's no dearth of data. Though enterprises are data-rich, they are information-poor.

Data governance is all about cataloging and understanding the quality of the data, as well as understanding the lineage of where the data is coming from that is used to answer questions.

The second bucket in the CDO role is about reducing the time to insights. Okay, so I have data sitting there, how do I extract value from it?

The third bucket of the CDO role is about evangelism. Evangelize the process across different teams so they know the value of data, what data means and how to leverage data across all the different aspects of the business.

Where does a CDO fit into an enterprise reporting structure and organizational hierarchy?

Uttamchandani: Broadly, I see CDOs as fitting in as part of the CIO's organization, especially since many organizations have kept IT under the leadership of a CIO. I also see some CDO reporting up to CTOs, especially for modern companies which have been in the digital space from the beginning.

Needless to say, wherever the CDO is sitting, the biggest thing is that the mandate for data has to come top-down, that is all the way from the CEO, enforcing and requiring the right way for data to be treated.

How does the chief data officer role change in the COVID-19 era?

Uttamchandani: For me, I'm getting used to working from home and I really don't like working from home.

On a deeper note, across the CDO community it's all about figuring out how to adapt to change. Every business going through this pandemic is going to see a change that could be from suppliers, customers. It could be the markets you were targeting. Whether these changes become more long term or not, I think that time will tell us. But pretty much everyone needs a strategy to adapt and change.

It is now super important to become data-driven, when it comes to managing the change that has hit us.

The value of the CDO is becoming much more critical during phases such as this, because steering your big ship and business just on hunches doesn't cut it.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Next Steps

Truist chief data officer on data management challenges

Dig Deeper on Data governance

Business Analytics
Content Management