Camelot’s first chief data officer Mike O’Donohue might only have been with the company for two years but he is already talking himself out of a job. While he believes many businesses should be hiring chief data officers so that companies can better integrate data into their strategy, there will come a time when data becomes part of the natural way of thinking, meaning a separate role should no longer be needed.
“In the same way that many businesses had chief digital officers, the chief data officer is about helping organisations make a transition. But at some point that transition is made and [data] becomes much more integrated into ways of working,” he explains.
“Chief data officers are there to augment and enhance an existing operating model with data, and championing that and making it happen. There comes a time when that job is, to some extent, done and the organisation is more or less transformed, when an organisation is naturally thinking this way and that catalyst that is the chief data officer is no longer necessary.”
O’Donohue was brought on board to manage that transition for Camelot. At the time, there was a lot of excitement and talk about big data and the company knew there was a lot of value in its data, but it couldn’t get at it. O’Donohue’s remit is to unlock that value by developing and integrating a data strategy across the business, working with other teams including marketing and commercial.
Camelot has put a significant investment and commitment behind building this capability. O’Donohue’s is an executive-level role, reporting straight into the CEO, which shows the importance Camelot places on data. He has been able to do a “fairly major upgrade” of most of its infrastructure and tools, and the company has brought in more data scientist and engineering roles, as well as training some of its existing staff.
“Data is a very fundamental part of what the National Lottery and Camelot are as opposed to being a peripheral part of the proposition.
“The organisation is very serious about changing the way it works and emblematic of that is the fact this is an exec board position. The need to create a data agenda is at exec team level; it is not a subsidiary to the marketing or commercial agenda,” says O’Donohue.
Creating that data agenda has been the focus of O’Donohue’s work over the past two years. Typically, data, analytics and insight are embedded into either commercial or marketing with the job of enabling them; Camelot wanted to do things differently.
“We still enable marketing and commercial activity but also see a separate stream of value that will flow from creating data and ‘decisioning’ products. Instead of having the mindset of enabling value we are creating value,” he explains.
The need to create a data agenda is at exec team level, it is not a subsidiary to the marketing or commercial agenda.
Mike O’Donohue, Camelot
To do that, Camelot thinks about data in two ways. Firstly, it develops data products that can help the organisation make better decisions. For example, it has developed a system that identifies which stores and distribution points sales staff should be visiting to improve execution and “unlock the most headroom”.
And secondly, it works on tools used directly by consumers to improve the experience, for example through personalisation or features for player protection.
The data team is also helping to improve marketing effectiveness. One example is a new system for managing word of mouth that enables the marketing team to more systematically identify, track and understand what consumers are saying about the brand and build marketing communications around that. It is also looking at how it can use data capabilities and understanding of consumers to build its messaging about the good causes the National Lottery supports into the experience of players.
“We are [looking to] enhance and augment [marketing’s] capability as opposed to replace it. This journey is about complementarity, not replacing one team with another. We want a joined-up approach across the business where we can pick up data sources that are untapped and find the use cases for them.”
O’Donohue believes that, as a chief data officer, it “helps enormously” to have a marketing or commercial background. And he certainly wouldn’t advocate getting rid of the top marketer or commercial boss, saying the roles are “stronger together”.
“[My role is about] how we wire data into the organisation in a much more effective way, so an understanding of the demand side of the business and fulfilment is important,” he says. “Often the challenge that data people face is they don’t understand [the company’s] decision-making and what it is trying to achieve; that is almost essential to be successful.”
While O’Donohue might believe that chief data officers have a limited shelf life, that doesn’t mean he is likely to be out of a job any time soon. If the past two years have been about coming up with new data products, the next two are about how data can be used to help Camelot build new propositions.
“Where some of the very exciting work is for Camelot is in how we use data to create better games, more exciting games, more engaging games. That is where the big prize is,” he concludes.