VIDEO | Carruthers and Jackson Chief Executive: Keys to a Successful Data Culture

Caroline Carruthers
Caroline Carruthers

(Europe) The unscrupulous use of data, particularly the abuse of people’s personal data, has led to the creation of laws such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). In this environment, information protection amidst the increase in data flows has commanded the Chief Data Officer (CDO) role.

Today, CDOs bridge the gaps between the IT department and company leadership, ensuring the company understands its data liabilities and remains accountable for data privacy. 

Ben Blanquera, VP-Evangelist and Senior Architect at Rackspace Technology and a CDO Magazine Global Editorial Board member, and Caroline Carruthers, CEO of U.K.-based Carruthers and Jackson, recently discussed the role of CDOs and the importance of analytics and data in organizations. Carruthers stresses three key areas that every CDO must focus on — regulation, ethics, and governance. 

Field Guide takeaways:

  • Regulatory compliance is fluid and ever-changing. Establish ongoing monitoring and build in a cadence to continuously refresh your plans.

  • Insights from data algorithms are only as good as the data you’re using. Make sure you have a data domain expert advising you regarding data quality.

  • Data governance is a massive undertaking if you try to do it all at once. Take a tiered approach, classify your data, and focus on the 20% of the data that makes the most difference.


According to Carruthers, the inception of GDPR and CCPA, intended to enhance privacy rights and consumer protection, have been critical developments in defining the role of CDOs. They are now expected to be the guiding light for organizations, helping them institute best practices and put appropriate safety controls in place. The CDO “shouldn't be relying on regulation to teach us morals. That should be the red line that we shall not cross,” she notes. “But there's an awful gray area before we hit that line that, as CDOs, we should be thinking about to make sure we're doing the right thing.”

When the GDPR and CCPA laws were introduced, IT departments built their data protection and regulation strategies to comply with the new rules. The problem, Carruthers says, is that many viewed it as a “one and done” event. The mentality, she says, was, "Tick, we've passed the line, we've hit it before the date came in, and we're all fine." 

According to Carruthers, the reality is that privacy isn’t an IT project that ever gets completed because there's always new data, new ways of working, and new problems to address. It's important to ask, "Do you understand where your data is coming from, where it's going, and what's happened to it on that journey? And most importantly, who's doing it?” 

Data Ethics 

Data ethics, i.e., putting the right data systems and procedures in place to ensure your organization is always doing the acceptable thing, is a crucial component, Carruthers continues. She points out that it is possible that historical data sets — such as those that focus on women, race, or LGBT status — may not fit our current ethical standards. That doesn't mean the data isn't useful to us, she adds. It just means that we have to be aware of the bias in the data to be able to use it and not carry that bias forward unintentionally because we didn't realize it was in the data in the first place. 

Carruthers says there should be a solid understanding of the data being used when it comes to the data sets. “If you do not understand the data that's going in, how on earth have you got any clue about what's coming out of the algorithms?” she asks. “And for me, the whole idea of using data is about making us better.” 

Companies that use tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) to create scalable data solutions must also be mindful of scaling their reputational risks, Carruthers cautions. Rather than replacing human intelligence, AI algorithms enhance it to help us accomplish more, she notes. In addition to understanding the data used by their algorithms, CDOs need to understand what the algorithms are trying to accomplish and how they reflect the organization’s ethical standards, Carruthers says.


As data movement volume and speed accelerate, CDOs are also under increasing pressure to support digital business outcomes. Data and analytics governance is no longer just a matter of remaining compliant with regulations;  it is a critical business capability.

Data governance is necessary in today's fast-paced and highly competitive enterprise environment. Organizations are capturing massive amounts of diverse internal and external data, requiring discipline to maximize their value, manage risks, and reduce costs.

One of the biggest mistakes Carruthers sees organizations making is trying to impose a “one size fits all” governance structure. If you do that, she says, “it will be like boiling the ocean.” Instead, she recommends adopting a tiered approach. By categorizing your data, you can put the appropriate level of governance around those priorities. For example, suppose the data must be 100% accurate because lives may depend on it, or getting it wrong could cost billions. In that case, the resources, effort, and technology you dedicate to that data should scale accordingly. However, data that only requires 60% to 80% accuracy may not require the same level of rigor or control.


Today, Carruthers says, almost every organization understands the importance of becoming data-driven to improve efficiency and business performance, and it is clear that organizations are prioritizing the role of the CDO. Still, despite some success stories, many organizations are struggling to deliver on their data strategies. Carruthers believes that machine learning and artificial intelligence (or augmented intelligence) will play a more significant role as CDO functions evolve, helping companies make decisions faster and solve problems on the fly without removing human interaction.

About the Author

Ben Blanquera is a Vice President with Rackspace Technology, a leading global multicloud services provider specializing in Data/AI, Application Development, Security, and Cloud platforms. He is passionate about creating amazing business outcomes by leveraging data and analytics. A CDO Magazine Editorial Board member, Blanquera is interviewing global CDOs to gain their insights to create an industry “field guide.”

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