The Value of a CDO in Life Science

Updated on April 8, 2022
matt turner alation

By Matt Turner, Director of Industry Strategy, Alation

For a life science business to thrive, it must amplify its use of data. The chief data officer (CDO) leads that charge. What was once a role dedicated to technology and data compliance is now a role equally immersed in data enablement. And as a result, a CDO has become a central role in the leadership team. Yet, according to a recent study by Gartner, less than half of large companies have a CDO. But that’s changing.

Parexel is a $2.5B global provider of biopharmaceutical services with more than 18,000 employees around the world. Michelle Hoiseth is the CDO of Parexel. With her insights, let’s explore why a CDO is an essential role in life science today. She’ll explain how the CDO is well-positioned to solve some of the biggest challenges in healthcare by steering a company’s data culture.

What Is the Role of a CDO in Life Science?  

A CDO is in charge of determining and delivering an impactful data strategy for an organization.  In life science, the CDO is not only concerned with data that drives the operations of the business itself but also the patient data that is used to determine the safety, efficacy, and impact that therapy has on patients.

The life sciences CDO must therefore balance compliance with regulatory requirements and data privacy while facilitating the expanded use of data to improve the process of developing treatments and getting them more cost-effectively into the hands of the patients who need them.  

Stepping back, the CDO oversees data analytics, management, and governance to ensure data quality and foster data literacy across an organization. And modern data strategies must encompass both offense and defense, using data to innovate and compete — but in a compliant way. For this reason, a CDO in life science must federate data efficiently while ensuring compliance at every step.

“[To] enable a business to operate differently and more efficiently, step one is to appreciate that your data is an asset to enable your business.” says Hoiseth. The next priority of a CDO is to lead these data conversations and oversee departmental alignment.

Indeed, the CDO acts as a translator between the IT department and the business. This is vital for two reasons as it enables:

●  Businesses to better understand the impact of IT decisions

●  IT to understand and better support business goals

Highly valuable data is sitting in IT, and in many cases, the IT department lives on its own island. By bridging the gap between the two, a CDO realizes and leverages new and valuable synergies.

But how can a CDO align IT with the business? Structuring integrated workflows, establishing a common dialogue, and monitoring progress toward shared goals are key steps. Once a dialogue has been initiated – within an effective and action-oriented structure – communication will organically grow. Then, the CDO can focus on setting and maturing the framework for an aggressive enterprise data strategy that will set the tone for a strong data culture.

How a CDO Quantifies the Value of Data

Quantifying the value of data simply means putting data to the numbers. This is especially important within the life science sector. With data-driven insight, life science businesses improve clinical cycle times and drug discovery processes. They’re also able to protect private health data, optimize patient care, drive process transformation, and generate new revenue streams.

As a result, patients benefit from improved speed and quality of care, delivery of studies, and their overall experience. And it doesn’t stop there. With improved customer insight, you’ll see trusted forecasting accuracy, tighter financial controls, and an improved work environment. And all of this starts from the work of a CDO.

How a CDO Drives a Data Culture

When planning the roadmap to establish or evolve a data culture, a CDO must consider any and all roadblocks. Poor data literacy, inaccessibility, lack of communication, inability to measure success, controls versus enablement, and lack of data governance all impact the path to improving data culture.

Start small, and focus on small victories that build toward a larger goal. Hoiseth advises that a CDO must use an “incremental value generation approach.” This is accomplished by focusing on key transformative analytics that generate value back to user communities. These key analytics demonstrate the time it takes to access data, the quality of data reporting, and the speed of generating new analyses. Data governance priorities must align with business priorities. 

Promoting relevant, actionable analytics gives people in the business the reason to adopt the tools and processes around data collection, quality, and utilization that add up to enterprise-wide benefit and pave the way for a data-driven culture.

Consider a Data Catalog to Support Your Data Culture

“When you think about the 18,000 people at Parexel – a life science service business – almost everybody is a data generator, a data consumer, or an analytics recipient,” Hoiseth points out. “The breadth of cultural change and the momentous shift in mindset that we need touches nearly all of those 18,000 people across 80 countries.  The challenge is that it touches some roles superficially, while others quite deeply.”

CDOs keen to foster a data culture should consider adopting a data catalog. “The power of the data catalog to me is in the way it encourages people to interact with each other around our data, the standards, the use requirements.  It contributes to people embracing this cultural and mindset shift around our data by enabling the workflow,” shares Hoiseth. “Now, people go to the data catalog and have an exchange when they have data or analytics needs.”


A CDO creates the data-driven culture necessary to end life science challenges that have stunted patient care and operational efficiency in the past.

However, it’s important to recognize that these challenges cannot be solved without centralized data operations from a data catalog. “The data catalog centralizes data work and creates an awareness that has allowed us to do air traffic control … around the needs of the business and its consumption needs,” says Hoiseth. For Parexel, a data catalog created the transparency necessary to enable interaction around data. And from there, new revenue streams, optimized patient care, and data-driven strategies were created to improve business success.

As we look toward the future of the life science industry, we still have a long way to go. But by leveraging the value of a CDO to synchronize, manage, and strategize operations, we ensure trusted data-driven opportunities for tomorrow and beyond.

As Director of Industry Strategy and Partner Marketing at Alation, I work closely with customers and partners to help them bring data intelligence and data culture to their organizations and realize the value of data in their industries.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.