Data chiefs struggle with governance, compliance as their main concern

Chief data officers in the public sector of key Asia-Pacific markets are currently prioritising governance, security and compliance amid the rapidly evolving regulatory landscape, highlighting a sense of caution and reduced focus on innovation in data analytics, according to new research from Qlik.

Commissioned by Qlik and produced independently by research and consultancy firm Omdia, the survey covered 326 public sector data executives across Australia, India and Singapore. The research was conducted in May 2023.

A shift in traditional reporting structures is driving this trend, with over half (55%) of data executives now reporting through a security, risk, or compliance channel rather than a technology organisational lead.

Just 21% of data executives operated under similar reporting channels in 2021. Meanwhile, a third of public sector agencies (33%) also now use a governance title for their senior data executives – more than twice the number (15%) in 2021.

The report also shows how governance has become fundamental to shaping strategy. Many public sector organisations are now allocating more resources to governance than capability, mirroring a default view across the sector that data is a “risk to be managed” rather than an “opportunity to be exploited.” 

In this climate, CDOs are more likely to possess governance activity capabilities (77%) instead of analytics (63%) or data literacy (57%).

When asked their priorities for the next year, many data leaders ranked strategising, maturity assessments, inventories, and governance boards above more innovation-focused initiatives, such as deploying analytics tools, decommissioning old technologies or publishing open datasets.

The research also demonstrates the drive to strengthen compliance practices in recent years. Over 90% of organisations reported having governance frameworks in place in 2023, which marks a significant increase compared to 2021 when only 38% reported having a governance body.

Geoff Thomas, Qlik SVP in APAC, said the report signals rapid change in data leaders’ roles and responsibilities, and how innovation is now taking a backseat.

“While CDOs have never been more important, and they play a critical role in the overall infrastructure of the public sector, the research clearly demonstrates how their job is rapidly evolving,” said Thomas.

“Critically, they are increasingly focused on addressing risk rather than seizing on opportunities when it comes to data,” he added. “To overcome this cautiousness, CDOs need to realise and maximize the return on data and analytics.”

Promisingly, the findings also show rising appreciation for the expanding roles and responsibilities of CDOs in today’s increasingly regulated climate. Around 78% now say they clearly understand the role – including its focus on compliance and governance – and how to deliver against it, compared to only 55% in 2021.

But this level of appreciation does not necessarily extend to entire organizations, according to the research. While over 90% of surveyed public sector organisations reported having a well-defined data strategy with clearly defined roles and objectives, more than half (54%) admitted that their strategy is not widely understood, hindering implementation.

Al Blake, Principal Analyst, Omdia, said CDOs should be promoting the value of data across their businesses to drive service development.

“There is still a considerable way to go in terms of integrating the CDO role into the overall organisation, particularly when it comes to striking the balance between governance and innovation,” said Blake.