What Exactly is a Chief Insights Officer?

Maisie Furneaux

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Sophie Grieve-Williams

    The role of a Chief Insights Officer (CIO) is still a very new concept that has come about with the surge in market research needs across all industries. With that being said, not all businesses know what a CIO actually is – so what is a Chief insight Officer?

    The Role of a Chief Insights Officer

    After reading a number of articles, speculation can confirm that a Chief Insights Officer will have only one job: to facilitate market research within a business and communicate the results to the board. However, the real answer is a CIO is in charge of a lot of things. It is true that a Chief Insights Officer can be found in any business, and amongst many other jobs, has the responsibility of overseeing research and insights, and developing strategic recommendations for the business. These two tasks are at the core of a CIO’s job description, but they can take on a myriad of other tasks as well.

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    The role of Chief Insights Officer will resonate with other job titles such as Chief Data Officer or Chief Research Officer, and while there may be crossovers, there are differences.

    Most likely, the role a Chief Insights Officer will resonate a lot with other job titles, such as Chief Data Officer, Chief Research Officer, Chief Analytics Officer, Chief Information Officer, and even in some cases titles like Director of Insights. As a Chief Insight Officer, after the two core tasks stated above, their job is not very easy to define as the role can be very flexible to fit business’ needs.

    One thing you can be sure of, is that a Chief Insight Officer has the responsibility of liaising with numerous positions, and departments within the business. From managing the in-house insights team, to bringing problems to life in front of key stakeholders, and even working with external teams, such as market research agencies.

    Business Benefits of a CIO

    Having a CIO in any workplace brings with it many different benefits, company-wide. To highlight how beneficial a CIO is to a company, I have listed a few of the main benefits I consider someone in this job role to bring:

    Flexible to the business’ needs

    A key part of the CIO’s job is to deliver to the needs of the business. In simple terms, their job as a CIO is really to be whatever you need them to be, and be all of them simultaneously: an analyst, a strategist, an advisor, a mentor, just to name a few. They also possess the flexibility to work towards a strategy for the company, whilst juggling the ever-changing business needs and the environment around them (be that internal or external).

    More direction in terms of research and insights

    As someone who has the responsibility to oversee all the research activities, having a CIO allows the company to have a more streamlined and efficient approach when it comes to producing relevant insight for the company, and the appropriate departments. As the CIO is able to oversee all of the research, it makes them more knowledgeable and have a better understanding of what needs to be done, as well as what research and insights the company has from previous studies. This allows for a much smoother organisation of research activities, and a clear direction in what is needed to better inform business decisions and future research.

    Ability to bring issues to life in the boardroom

    One of our most recent articles discussed ways in which it is possible to bring the voice of the customer into the boardroom. Well, one key way in which a company can do this is by utilising the CIO’s in-depth knowledge and trust from other members in the board room. The CIO Is able to bring issues to life in the boardroom, in ways others couldn’t, and help top management to understand what needs doing and guide them on the best strategy to do so. In this way, the CIO is essential for turning key data and insights into valuable decisions.

    Improved communication between internal teams, and also external

    Without a CIO, communications between teams (both internal and external) about research studies and their findings can often take up more time than expected, and become more confusing or not be communicated in the right way. With a CIO in place, it gives the business the ability to make the most out of the opportunity to coordinate studies beneficial to different departments, whether that be with an internal research team, or an external research agency.

    Growth responsibilities

    Another key role of a CIO is to help the business grow. Often, it proves difficult to focus on a long-term vision, as well as short-term. With an ever-changing business environment, it is hard to create a focus so far in advance, especially with so much else going on. But in the role of a CIO, creating a long-term strategy is part of the job; with a complete overview of insights, and the ability to develop strategies, CIO’s are able to develop a long-term vision and challenge the status quo, helping the business to grow.

    CIO – The Key to Better Research

    As a job role encompassing so many different responsibilities, it’s easy to see there are many benefits for having one within a company. From the perspective of working in a market research agency, we’ve been lucky enough to experience working with companies both who have a CIO, and others who don’t. Although we’ve had many good experiences working with companies without CIO’s, one thing particularly noticeable is that working with a CIO brings along with it many benefits, both for us as the agency, and the company itself. I’ve outlined a couple of the key benefits I’ve seen whilst working with CIO’s.

    From experience, working alongside companies both with CIOs and without, the organisation element of research activities is noticeably more efficient where there is one person in charge, as it enables us to work alongside the company much more smoothly, with a structured and organised method in place on how and when each research study is to be carried out. The CIO tends to have much more of a holistic view of the research activities occurring at one time, and allows us to be on the same page much more easily.

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    From streamlining communication to enabling the development of organisational structures, Chief Insight Officers are so much more than just insights advocates in the boardroom.

    Building on the improved organisation of research activities, having one point of contact for the research agency is beneficial for both us (the agency) and the company. Instead of having multiple points of contact in one company, which ultimately brings with it differences in which people like to work, having the CIO as a single point of contact who acts as the mediator between those in the company who want to run the research and us, the agency, allows for much better communication between us.

    As the single point of contact, the CIO is able to develop a way in which they find it best to communicate what they want from a research study, both in terms of objectives and the output. This creates better direction, and creates a more streamlined understanding of what they need and what the agency needs to carry out a study to create the most benefit possible, every time.

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