Meet our new Chief Data Officer

In July 2016, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) appointed our first Chief Data Officer (CDO), Sandy Kyriakatos. While this role is becoming more common in the private sector, ESDC’s CDO position is a first for the Department and for the federal government as a whole.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Sandy and learn more about her thoughts on the importance of data to achieving ESDC’s mission, what a CDO does, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Question: If someone asked you to explain what a CDO is and does, what would you say?

Sandy Kyriakatos: Well, a CDO very simply manages the organization’s Data Assets. It’s a relatively new office with a number of hats.

On the one hand we play defense by ensuring the care and feeding of our data to maximize its use. Is it captured, stored, managed, and used properly? Is it clean, well-organized, easy to get to, and safe?

On the other hand we are on offence and look for ways to get the most value from our data. How can we use it to improve processes or drive better decisions and actions?

Finally, and this is the most important part, the office of the CDO changes the culture of an organization. It’s a success if it’s second nature for people to use and share the data available to excel at their jobs, whatever their level in the organization. 

Question: Why should ESDC employees care about data?

Sandy Kyriakatos: This is important. We care about data because Canadians have entrusted us with it and it’s core to the decisions that we make. First and foremost, we all need to ensure that no one is put at risk due to the fact that we have their data to run our programs. That’s a given. But we also need to care more about data because it can help us do more for Canadians.

Question: What are some of the biggest differences that you have observed between the public and private sector?

Sandy: Privacy and security are of critical importance everywhere I have been, including in the private sector, but usually within the context of the benefits we could get from the data.  It’s part of what makes this new role so interesting for me. I am probably most excited about changing the way people think. That’s #1. We can use the data and ensure its secure; these are not mutually exclusive ideas. I can actually see us collaborating on projects that will both open it up AND make it more secure.

Question: How much of an impact do you think the Government’s emphasis on greater opening and transparency will have on your job as CDO?

Sandy: We have dual and, it would seem on the surface, competing objectives. On the one hand, we have a duty to ensure that we protect Canadians’ data, their personal information. That is a sacred trust. But we are also bound to do the best we can for them, to provide them the best services possible. In order to do that, we need to break down some of the barriers we have created around data and open up the possibilities. I think the government’s emphasis on greater openness and transparency is the mandate we need to address both sides.

ESDC is proud to welcome Sandy Kyriakatos to our senior executive team. Her appointment is a clear demonstration of our readiness to innovate as we improve the way we serve Canadians.

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