Governing Body Spotlight

Governing Body Member of the UK & Ireland CDAO Community

Neil McIvor

Chief Data Officer

Department for Education

Neil McIvor became Chief Data Officer and Chief Statistician at the Department for Education in October 2017. He has responsibility for the department’s enterprise-wide data and information strategy, governance, control, policy development and effective exploitation.

Previously, Neil served as the Deputy Head of Profession for Statistics for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) from 2012, and as temporary Chief Data Officer from 2016, moving briefly to the Office for National Statistics to run Business Data Operations and Student Migration statistics.

Learn more about leaders in the UK & Ireland CDAO community here.

Give us a brief overview of the path that led to your current role.

I became a government statistician in 2002 and started my Civil Service career building code to link cross-government data – initially on drug treatment demand and then on matching benefit and employment data. I was fortunate to work for an amazing Director, David Frazer, who was essentially performing as CDO before the role even existed. I learnt a lot from David about how we should manage, govern and drive the best value for our data assets.

After spending a considerable amount of time as both a Policy Lead on Disability Employment and an Operational Delivery Lead for Disability Benefits, I became Chief Statistician at the Department for Work and Pensions. From there I naturally drifted into a CDO role, taking over from David following his retirement. Subsequently, I moved to the Department for Education to set up a professional CDO function from scratch.

What are some of your guiding leadership principles?

Honesty and collaboration. We need to work together to deliver - delivery is the important thing. Value your experts as that is where innovation is driven from. 

Be humble and credit those who do the work. Build your personal credibility and walk the talk. 

Finally, network, network and network! You will never have all the answers but the more people you know, the more chance you have of knowing someone who has the answers you need.

With disruption being a key theme of the past year, where do you see your role as a CDAO going in the next 1-2 years?

CDAOs should be a stabilizing factor in a disrupted world where the demand for more data will continue to increase. It is our role to ensure that the data an organisation needs is effectively governed, appropriately managed and efficiently processed. 

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the role as a CDAO?

Talk to the business and understand the business needs – CDAOs cannot work in a silo. Once you understand the business needs, think about developing your strategy, including your capability strategy. 

Reach out to as many CDAOs as you can and go to networking events – these are great places to knock around ideas and meet people that have experienced and overcome the same challenges you are facing. Overall, as CDAOs, we are all constantly learning from each other.

Tell us 3 fun facts about yourself.

  1. I am a medieval reenactor and have a couple of suits of replica armour that I wear at events for members of the public.
  2. I live deep in the South Wales Countryside – with the nearest supermarket ten miles away and the nearest pub a 30-minute walk away. Always uphill on the way home!
  3. When I was at school, I played rugby for the town and county and had trials for England (unsuccessful!)

What is the value of joining an Evanta community?

As said above, learning from others is key to our own personal development. Engaging in professional communities is a fantastic way to do this and build your networks.


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