Blog > Data Governance > From the Boots of a Former CDO

From the Boots of a Former CDO

Authors Photo Alexia Plathey | April 25, 2024

Jean-Paul Otte recently joined Precisely as Head of Data Strategy Services for Europe. His specialty? Data!  Jean-Paul sat down for an interview where we discussed his background as a former CDO, the challenges he faced, and how he developed his unique perspective and data governance expertise.

Hello Jean-Paul, could you tell us a little about your background?

After starting my career in banking IT, I turned to consulting, and more specifically to Business Intelligence (BI) in 2004. It was at this point that I realized that BI initiatives were doomed to failure unless data quality management was taken in hand!

Improving data quality, as a key element of any data strategy initiative, was therefore a subject that appealed to me, and one that would be important in the years to come.

In 2006, I joined Business & Decision, a French consulting agency with a European presence, to develop a data quality line of business. This quickly expanded to include data governance, enabling quality to be structurally improved. With a team of around thirty consultants, we developed a “framework” enabling our customers to manage their data effectively in Business & Decision’s core business of CRM, Risk Management, and Performance Management projects.

Then, in 2013, I felt the need to adopt a more strategic, cross-functional approach to truly enable organizations to extract the full value from their data. This is how I created iValue Consulting, where I have supported a good number of companies in defining and implementing a “data strategy” with data governance and quality as its cornerstone.

From 2017 to 2020, I led the implementation of data governance at Elia Transmission, the Belgian electricity transmission network operator.

Then, before joining Precisely, I spent 2 and a half years as Chief Data Officer at Degroof Petercam, a venerable Belgian financial institution, where I was able to successfully set in motion their transformation to a data-driven company.

So, your interest in data didn’t come immediately, but was built up over the course of your experiences?

The interest and awareness of the value of data and the crucial importance of its quality has always been there, but, yes, the way in which companies can get the full value out of their data has evolved, shaped by challenges and experiences.

Use cases have multiplied over time, driven by various pieces of legislation, growing awareness of the importance of data and its key role in decision-making processes, heightened demand for digital transformation, and the desire to achieve the potential benefits of predictive analysis and artificial intelligence.

All these developments have led more and more companies to bring a Chief Data Officer (CDO) onboard to implement a real data strategy.

As companies have matured, so has my vision and approach to the subject. The main lesson I’ve learned, and which is still valid today, is that you need to involve the whole organization in this transformation program, from the executive committee down to every user or producer of data in the company.

Leaving someone by the wayside is not an option!


Four Steps to Improved Data Governance

Getting started with data governance? Corporate leadership wants to minimize risk, increase insight, and improve operations. Here are four steps to a strong a data governance program.

If I understand correctly, the role of CDO hasn’t been around that long?

Yes, the first CDOs appeared in Europe well after the financial , following the regulatory constraints imposed on the financial sector. Initially, it wasn’t the sexiest of roles. The challenge for CDOs was to transform constraints into opportunities for their companies to extract value from their data.

Today, the CDO’s objectives are still a “moving target” depending on the maturity of the organization, the CDO’s position in the organization chart, and of course the priorities of senior management.

What exactly were your challenges as CDO at the time?

My first objective was clear. It had been over two years since the regulator had pointed out the organization’s shortcomings in terms of data governance. The time for slides and other descriptions of policies, or theoretical roles and responsibilities, was over. It was urgent to implement best practices.

I knew that simply waving the “stick” of the regulator wouldn’t enthuse many people, but I needed the support of the business. So, I used the carrot of improving data quality, the lack of which had caused suffering in the business for a long time, to start getting my “ambassadors” on board.

The creation of a BI skills center supporting a self-service approach also helped to motivate users to get on board with the Data program.

If I were to cite, in a more generic way, some of the main challenges of the CDO position, I would use these words: alignment, human capital, collaboration and finally data culture.

First of all, in terms of alignment, we need to be able to establish a real relationship of trust, to ensure that management agrees with our decisions and allows us to implement the actions and budgets necessary for good data management.

Then, on a human level, we need to break down silos and instill a spirit of sharing and collaboration between teams –enabling them to speak the same language.

We also need to secure the involvement of data stewards on the business side, and to support teams by ensuring that managers take responsibility for data domains.

In this way, a true data culture can spread throughout the organization. The CDO is the guarantor of this culture and its dissemination, and must support its integration on a day-to-day basis.

A final challenge is to find the levers that align and transform business strategy into data strategy.

Do you have an anecdote to share with us? 

What really stood out for me, and what I should have taken into account more, was a remark made by the CEO when I took up my position as CDO. From the very first day, he looked at me and very naturally said, “Jean-Paul, I don’t understand what you’re going to do, but I know it’s important! I should have understood right away that trying to explain data governance in detail as it is, without going any further to show why it’s necessary, could mean that it wouldn’t work. We need to “translate” the data and its universe to make it accessible to all, and to bring collaboration and involvement to life.

What advice would you give to any new CDO?

I don’t know if I have just one, but I’d say that the most important thing would be not to focus solely on data governance, nor on trying to explain it, but rather to put all your energy into demonstrating the value of data and what it will bring to the business. In fact, I didn’t follow this advice at all myself at the outset, because I hadn’t yet fully grasped the extent and importance of it. I learned it at Degroof Petercam.

Everyone is speculating on the trends for 2024. What do you think will be the key issues for CDOs in 2024?

For me, there are a couple of big issues that stand out and put a certain amount of pressure on the profession because they demand responsiveness and efficiency, and that is ESG reporting and all the input required by new technologies such as AI. Why? Because there is a huge volume of data to collect, understand, process, and enrich… and this is only going to explode.

At the end of the day, data, whether it’s related to company finances or carbon emissions, is important and presents relevant information that needs to be assimilated and taken into account.

Artificial Intelligence adds more pressure because it feeds on data. If the quality of that data isn’t up to scratch, it will be impossible to obtain reliable analyses and results.

New roles are also likely to emerge, as the CDO may wear many hats, but he or she must remain focused on data and all that revolves around it. But he needs to surround himself with experts on all these parallel subjects to provide the best possible support.

The final word?

One day, data governance by itself will be a distant memory in a much more advanced data culture focused on data excellence. How about a chat on the subject?

Getting started with data governance? Corporate leadership wants to minimize risk, increase insight, and improve operations. Here are four steps to a strong a data governance program.