APAC public sector CDOs currently prioritise governance

Photo by Mr. Bochelly

Public sector Chief Data Officers in key Asia Pacific markets are currently prioritizing 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.

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 organizational lead, according to the research, titled “Driving Data in the APAC Public Sector: Balancing Governance and Innovation”.

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 organizations 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 strategizing, 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 organizations reported having governance frameworks in place in 2023, which marks a significant increase compared to 2021 when only 38% reported having a governance body.

Commissioned by Qlik and conducted independently by Omdia, the study presents the findings of a survey of 326 senior data executives within the public sectors of Australia, India, and Singapore, revealing how the CDO role and business strategies are evolving across government organizations.

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

“Our study provides valuable insight into the responsibilities and demands faced by CDOs in the public sector today. 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,” says Thomas.

“Critically, they are increasingly focused on addressing risk rather than seizing on opportunities when it comes to data. 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 organizations 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.

“It is fantastic to see CDOs stepping into an era where their roles are clearly defined, and the value of data and analytics is understood. However, CDOs must ensure this value is understood at the organizational level, and that this translates into service development and strategic delivery. There is still a considerable way to go in terms of integrating the CDO role into the overall organization, particularly when it comes to striking the balance between governance and innovation,” says Blake.