Why do we need a chief analytical officer? Analytics is just a function…..

Posted : May 28, 2024 -


Why do we need a chief analytical officer? Analytics is just a function…..

3 minute read by

Jane Johnston, Independent Health & Care Data and Analytics Consultant. Executive Director for Membership Services, AphA

This is a question we were asked as part of a panel discussion on elevating the data and analytics workforce at an integrated care delivery forum a couple of weeks ago.

Initially, I was stunned momentarily into silence, and for those who know me, this is definitely not the norm! In the seconds left to respond, as the guy at the back of the room was frantically waving his hands to signal we were out of time, the only retaliation I could come up with was a rather simplistic “well completing a set of accounts is just a function, why do we need a Chief Finance Officer (CFO)?”.

And that question has been bugging me ever since, as has my response, so I thought I would put pen to paper and explain for those out there who are wondering the same thing…

First of all, let me address the CFO retort.  Of course we need a CFO, somebody who has the financial acumen, the deep understanding of financial management, accounting and financial reporting. They need to be able to think strategically be great leaders and communicators with an ability to solve problems. They also need integrity and high ethical standards. The list is endless but in fact many of those qualities are also required of a Chief Analytical Officer (CAO).

Another important factor is a CFO is highly qualified, a registered professional giving them credibility.  They have accountability and need to continually develop themselves professionally to maintain high standards of practice.  This provides assurance that public funds are handled with integrity. And they can ensure their workforce adheres to the same standards. So why wouldn’t we also want that for analytical community by having a CAO?

On that point, these same CFO’s will sign off how millions or even billions are spent in health and care, based on the analytics provided by a workforce who are not required to be professionally registered or offer any evidence of their levels of competency.

With this thought in mind, then having a CAO is imperative to support and develop the analytical workforce. To ensure they have access to relevant organisations such as AphA (Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts), ongoing training programmes, career development opportunities, networking opportunities, a supportive infrastructure with mentorship and guidance along with encouragement and support to become professionally registered.  Having all this in place will give organisations the assurance and confidence that their analytical workforce is competent and professional, and any evidence and data based decisions made will be founded on sound judgement.

Back to the original question, yes it’s true analytics can be seen as just a function but having a CAO can bring substantial value that goes beyond the routine reporting.  A CAO provides strategic oversight to ensure the analytics function supports data based decision making and aligns with wider organisational,  system and national goals.

The CAO should drive the data strategy, their leadership is crucial for integrating analytics across departments and organisations.  To ensure the infrastructure and architecture is in place to support the analytics function to provide the intelligence and insights needed to bring about transformation.  They need to be able to clearly communicate the strategy is aligned with business objectives, thus ensuring all stakeholders understand and support the analytics initiatives, so fostering a unified approach in achieving organisational goals.

They need to work closely with information governance to ensure compliance with regulations.  As we head towards more predictive modelling, we need to ensure all the data sharing agreements are in place and we have sound legal basis for our analytics. This will give organisations and the public, assurance that their data is being handled with integrity and that any ethical considerations for the use of that data have been covered.

The CAO will keep themselves fully aware and updated of the national direction and the analytical advancements and technologies needed to drive transformation and improve the health and well-being of our population. They will continually monitor the advancements of analytics both nationally and internationally, and network with their peers and counterparts to share knowledge and maintain transparency

The CAO also needs to think strategically across system collaborations or departments within an organisation, to ensure the right questions are being asked and answered so data insights are used effectively.  A holistic approach enhances data based decision making to support improved interventions and innovation, driving better health and care outcomes.

These collaborations should include working closely with Chief Information Officers (CIOs).  New Electronic Patient Records (EPRs) and new digital tech is crucial in driving operational efficiency. However the CIO needs to be fully involved in the evaluation process to ensure full benefits can be realised from the data. This relationship is also key in developing data strategies to ensure the architecture and interoperability supports the integration of data which is critical for creating a unified data environment that supports comprehensive analysis.

CAO collaborations should not be restricted to within their own organisation or system. National programmes such as Federated Data Platform (FDP) and Secure Data Environments (SDE), can benefit hugely from the input and support of the CAO network.  Their expert input can ensure that such environments are suited to local and national analytical needs and can be adapted to support emerging technologies and evolving business requirements and to enable collaborative working at a national level such as sharing code that can be adapted and utilised by each tenant independently.

CAOs also need to be great communicators.  Being able to translate complex analytics into understandable and actionable insight for non-technical stakeholders. They should encourage a level of data literacy across the organisation and/or system to ensure data driven decisions are meaningful to everyone.  They need to use their communication skills to gain buy in from executives, operational leads and other stakeholders, be able to articulate the value and impact of effective analytics, thus securing the investment required to develop an exemplar analytical function with forward thinking predictive analytics.

So in conclusion, although analytics can function as ‘just a function’ at a basic level within organisations and systems, the CAO ensures that these efforts are strategic, coordinated and impactful, ultimately contributing towards successful transformation and new ways of working in a way that routine data reporting functions cannot.