Who should take ownership of data and AI?

'CEOs are increasingly looking for roles in data leadership, technology, leadership, operational leadership'

Who should take ownership of data and AI?

As companies rush to maximize the potential of generative artificial intelligence (AI) for business success, they may be overlooking one key player in the decision-making process: the chief data officer (CDO), finds a new IBM report.

Three-quarters of CEOs globally believe that competitive advantage will depend on who has the most advanced generative AI, and 50 per cent are already integrating generative AI into products and services while 43 per cent are using it to inform strategic decisions.

Amidst all this, 32 per cent of Canadian CEOs say the chief technology officer (CTO) is crucial to decision-making. Thirty per cent say the same thing about the chief information officer (CIO).

However, only 15 per cent claim CDOs have the same crucial role, finds IBM’s survey of 3,000 CEOs globally, including 120 Canadian CEOs.

“The chief data officer (CDO) is a senior executive responsible for the utilization and governance of data across the organization,” note Minda Zetlin and Thor Olavsrud in their article published on CIO

“CEOs [are] increasingly looking for roles in data leadership, technology, leadership, operational leadership,” says Ashek Mahmood, senior partner, vice president and Canada leader for data and technology transformation at IBM, in talking with Canadian HR Reporter. 

“Globally and in Canada… the CIOs, CTOs are really important roles. Where there's still room for opportunities is within the new emerging role that we call chief data officer. This is a role that's been [and is] pivotal now. And it does have a seat at the table in C-suites.”

Previously, Geoffrey Hinton, the former Google executive dubbed “the godfather of AI”, raised concern about the bad side of AI – saying that advancements around AI technology are pushing the world into “a period of huge uncertainty”.

CDO governs data in AI world

The value of CDOs’ role in governing data across the organization impacts the whole business, says Mahmood.

“AI has captured the world's imagination, and CEOs are feeling the urgency about it. 

“Everybody within an organization needs to come together and assess and prepare for the impact. And the best place to start, we believe, is to identify opportunities and use cases where there's a clear vision of how you can use AI, how business will navigate the disruption, how it will create the change management it requires. 

“[Employers must] make sure [they] have the digital and technical infrastructure to operationalize this thing at scale, and integrate it with different types of business workflows. Because if we build a solution that doesn't connect with other business systems, or it's not adopted by a human, then you cannot really drive that decision making that you require.” 

Before companies use AI as a fully automated decision-maker, they have to go through a process, says Mahmood.

“A human needs to be on top of that, to ensure the quality assurance of the decisions made… That human expertise and the knowledge of complex business processes is what's actually going to help you create AI tools that will accomplish those same goals faster.” 

Last month, Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner called on the Ontario government to put in place a “robust framework” to govern the public sector's use of AI technologies.

How to protect data?

In a time when many employers and workers are using AI to do manual, repeatable tasks, and “looking for data to come up with analytics and insights to make data-driven decisions,” companies must also treat as a priority data privacy and security “throughout the entire ecosystem of the organization,” says Mahmood.

To do this, employers must put in place data governance policies, best practices around quality privacy and security for data and ethical principles that are adopted within the organization, he says.

Mahmood also notes that companies live in an ecosystem, and they need to secure data to thrive in that.

“You have to collaborate with multiple parties in this world. You have to create a trusted and efficient collaboration platform for your suppliers, for your vendors, for your partners, and to ensure you can also access data across that. 

“And that's a big challenge: ‘How do I ensure data and AI works across different ecosystem partners?’ But being able to solve that in a secure way, in an accessible way… will really help companies to create that default data management system that they need to drive AI for the future.”

One educator previously called on organizations to incentivize cyborgs – workers who use AI behind their employers’ backs to do their job – to come forward, and expand the number of people using AI to create new ones.

Latest stories