"No ivory towers" found on OS map for data knowledge sharing

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

According to Caroline Bellamy, there is a lot to be gained from having a data centre of excellence within an organisation. But she has a problem with the name and behaviour it encourages. Bellamy is the first chief data officer at Ordnance Survey, the government’s mapping agency, having joined just over a year ago. She has worked in the data industry for almost 30 years and in her new organisation has set up a “data office”.

"We set up the data office to be a partnership organisation."

Caroline Bellamy, chief data officer, Ordnance SurveyShe explained that her data office is similar in structure to a data centre of excellence, but as well as having a different name, it fosters a different way of working. “Behaviourally, we set it up to be a partnership organisation and we have four elements to partner with four key aspects of the organisation,” Bellamy said.

The first aspect is about strategy, control, planning and governance, and looks at where the organisation is going. It is also related to interfacing with the senior directors of the company as well as planning, controlling and managing multiple projects.

The second is about integration with technology. As data requires its own technical builds and tooling, it is important to think about how to integrate with the technology function that existed in the organisation previously. Bellamy said: “I’m in an organisation that is hundreds of years old and we’re coming along with new technologies and new demands, so we need to partner with that function.”

The third aspect relates to partnering with the business. This involves finding out what they want to do with the data, and for which outcome, purpose, and objective. Bellamy explained: “We are partnering with people who are delivering either commercial or, in our organisation, social value.”

And, finally, the fourth aspect is in regard to partnering with “the leading edge” of the data community. This is to find out what novel things can be done with data through machine learning, IoT, complex analytics and other advanced technologies.

Bellamy, who is part of the DataIQ100, stated that her data office is set up this way because she and her team have an ethos of collaboration and partnership, rather than protectively guarding ownership of data and therefore allowing others to feel that they have no responsibility for it. “We’re here to enable the organisation and I am a very, very proud enabler. Data enables an organisation to make better decisions, better outcomes, better facts and understandings. We can simplify technologies, we can streamline lots of things, but we have to do that in partnership,” she said.

"We have to be more flexible than having ivory tower experts."

Ivory towerAccording to the CDO, this way of thinking comes from watching the data industry grow over 30 years, while developing her career within it. When the data industry was still a fledgling, Bellamy said that it was quite a specialist and expert profession.

She warned that when concentration of expertise is carried forward, there is the danger that the group of experts at its heart become internally- rather than externally-focused. And so people in other functions are discouraged from getting close and finding out how data works.

She said: “The danger with words like ‘data centre of excellence’ is you can give the impression to the wider organisation, partners, customers that you are the expert and no-one else is.”

For her, this attitude and environment is not conducive to the premise of collaboration across an organisation in which datasets are brought together from other parts of the business. “We have to be more flexible than having ivory tower experts,” she said.

"Data isn't something that happens somewhere else."

According to Bellamy, it is important that everyone in the organisation be responsible and accountable for data, because data exists and has value in all parts of the organisation. She said: “Data isn’t something that happens somewhere else. GDPR doesn’t happen somewhere else. Responsibility for taking care of customer information doesn’t happen somewhere else. We all need to have, at some level, a sense of responsibility for our organisation’s data,” she stated.

Though Bellamy is clear that her role means that she has overall responsibility for her organisation’s data, she has to work with all other parts of it, so prefers to avoid language that suggests there are data experts and that there is a single source of data truth.

She doesn’t want people to think “I’ll leave that data stuff to you, then. I don’t think that’s a nice behaviour to generate across an organisation.”