Why you need a chief analytics officer

Posted : August 14, 2023 -

HSJ article link: https://www.hsj.co.uk/workforce/why-you-need-a-chief-analytics-officer/7035310.article

NHS organisations need a chief analytics officer to lead data-driven culture, inspire analysts, and unlock potential in healthcare through analytics, write Mark Foy, Marc Farr, and Neil Morgan.


Analytics has never been more important to the NHS – and the need for analysts is growing all the time. But where should they sit within your organisation?

Analytics teams need to be properly recognised and represented. But deciding which director’s portfolio is right for an analytics department can sometimes feel like a game of pin the tail on the donkey. It’s hard to get that perfect fit.

Understanding the difference between “digital” and “data and analytics” is more important than ever in today’s rapidly evolving healthcare landscape. We must recognise the key role of leadership in fostering a data-driven culture that truly values the power of analytics, harnessing the power of data and analytics will enable health and care leaders to unlock groundbreaking opportunities.

Right now, we tend to sit in the shadow of digital teams and chief information officers. Why is it accepted for those who use the data within IT systems to be professionally represented by those who manage digital? Reports, surveys, and strategies focused on digital teams seldom cover data modelling and the use of advanced analytics. As a result, analytics is often the victim of competing attention – yet it’s something that holds the key to unlocking so much across the NHS as well as powering artificial intelligence.

Understanding population data, for example, allows leaders to target interventions that prevent illness before it happens. It also helps us to identify and respond to health inequalities in the populations we serve.

Data science offers vast opportunity, says Marc Farr, chief analytical officer at East Kent Hospitals Foundation Trust and Kent and Medway Integrated Care Board.

But it “relies on a collaboration between IT professionals, to specify and build new environments, locally or in the cloud – and data professionals – engineers, analysts, scientists,” he says, “It is not conceivable that these specialisms can be hosted within a single directorate.”

So, what’s the alternative?

A growing number of organisations are appointing CAOs like Dr Farr: a board-level role dedicated to unlocking the potential of the data your organisation already holds. A good CAO/chief data and analytics officer will provide leadership and support to a team who can harness this potential.

“This leadership role brings dedicated professional expertise to deliver insight and intelligence in health and care,” says Rony Arafin, chief executive officer of the Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts. “We already know that analysts need stronger leadership in their organisations. CAOs, who should hold a Leading Analyst certification themselves, can champion professional development and accreditation.

“If we’re really going to harness the value of data and insight, and recognise the work that the data and analytics professional is capable of doing, then it needs to be recognised as a professional entity in its own right.”

Neil Morgan, CAO at Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit and executive director of Policy at AphA, says that creating intelligence-led systems that integrate health and social care is “a hugely complex undertaking on so many levels.”

A senior leader can focus on an organisation’s approach, “articulating the vision, framing the important questions and championing the importance of analysis and insight,” he says. They can ensure analytics is not just “an afterthought”.

So, how do you choose a CAO?

In our opinion, there are three key things you should be looking for when making this appointment. A candidate should have the ability to influence and inspire everyone around them. They should be a professionally registered analyst who has had their skills accredited. Finally, they should place the development of analysts and analytics at the heart of everything.

Let’s explore that first point in more detail. Analytics is relatively new as a profession and some pockets of the NHS will be unaware of the role it plays. A successful CAO will need to be able to lead and be visible to generate a data-rich and curious culture. They need to champion the benefits of analytics and inspire all staff on the journey with them. It’s crucial that everyone uses data responsibly in your organisation, and the CAO is there to ensure that happens.

Next, a CAO needs to have lived and breathed the role of an analyst.

As Neil Morgan says: “being able to understand and interpret data supports engagement and healthy debate it empowers individuals by building confidence.”

They should also be professionally registered via industry bodies FEDIP and AphA. This shows not only that their skills have been validated and independently assessed, but that they are passionate and committed to the analyst profession. As early adopters of professional registration, they are clearly willing to be held accountable to AphA values and code of conduct.

Lastly, your CAO needs to build on and support the development of an analyst profession within their own organisation – and beyond.

They will be the visible leader of analysts and will foster an environment that hones analysts’ skills and their confidence to use them. Your CAO will create a safe space for analysts to learn and grow: an organisation that’s ready to embrace data. They will encourage analysts to network nationally and support them in undertaking training and development by providing both the time and funding to do so.

The role of a CAO in a “data rich NHS” should be to ensure its “wealth of expertise, skill and passion” are fully utilised “to drive improvement and better outcomes,” says Mr Morgan. A CAO “is an investment in developing the wider analyst community”.

As Rony Arafin adds: “A CAO role will be instrumental in advancing how data can be used for good, influencing the transformation needed to deliver safe and high-quality health and care services.”

Do this right, and your organisation will be a national exemplar: the place where all the best analysts want to work and the blueprint for all other organisations to follow.

Are you a leader working across health and care and believe that data is the new currency for transformation? Join us at the inaugural congress which combines HSJ’s access and understanding of NHS leadership challenges and AphA’s deep knowledge of the transformative potential of analytics for a unique and collaborative conversation.

Register here.