Sainsbury's Chief Data Officer Andrew Day only started working at the supermarket giant in October 2016 but has already begun to transform the organisation through data. [Read next: Chief Data Officer salary and job description - What's the role, pay and reporting line of the CDO?]

"If you think about our business from farm to fork, there are applications everywhere," Day told CIO UK at the DataIQ Summit, months after claiming the top spot on the organisation's list of data leaders.

"When I joined the business the most obvious things were around customers, customer-based analytics and CRM sort of stuff. But actually, the bigger opportunity is in product-based analytics and the fusing together of data from the product world and the customer world to create something that is greater than the sum of the parts.

"It's the unintended or the unseen applications which I think are going to be those that deliver the most value to us."

Day is the first CDO in the company's 146-year history. His appointment reflects a growing recognition of the power of the ever-growing volumes of data in the enterprise and the need for a strategy to harness it.

Data analytic skills were the most in-demand skill for the third year in a row in the 2017 Harvey Nash CIO Survey, and the use of data and analytics in the respondent's organisations was their biggest concern.

"Gartner are saying that by 2020 80% of businesses will show data as an asset on their balance sheet, and if you're showing it on the balance sheet it means you need to do something with it, you need to be able to leverage it.

"I think increasingly that growth is driven by people's belief that there is value to be had in the information assets they sit on, both in creating them and then exploiting them."

New reporting lines

Day manages a team of 50 and reports to Chief Financial Office Kevin O'Byrne, another recent appointment. Sainsbury's has also recruited a new Group CIO to help him navigate the company's digital journey through its turbulent merger with Argos and beyond.

Perennial CIO 100 high-flyer Phil Jordan will be a familiar face in the office for Day, as the two worked together at Telefonica for a number of years. Neither of them has a background in retail, but Day doesn't believe that is a problem. Jordan starts his role as Group CIO in January 2018 reporting to CEO and serving as a member of the company's operating board.

"I think probably you hit a wall in terms of understanding the sector," he says. "It's more about learning the business and learning a sector and making sure that you don't make a fool of yourself by suggesting something that just in the physical retail world, the physical world you literally couldn't do. Any new business you come into is like hitting a bit a wall at some point."

The previous relationship Day developed with Jordan at Telefonica will benefit their new own at Sainsbury's, and gain structural support from his strategy on how the CIO and CDO should generally work together.

"I think probably the most important thing is very clear terms of reference," he says. "The relationship has to be absolutely hand in glove, and understanding who does what, where the hand-offs are, what you do for each other, and where you support one another is probably the most important thing.

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"So set clear boundaries in the initial instant so you understand who's responsible for doing what. I think most importantly, the role of a CIO and the role of a CDO are very different, but they come together in the technology space in that a CIO is clearly all about technology and a CDO needs to understand technology as an enabler for doing what we do for from an analytics perspective.

"At Sainsbury's, it's a new role so we're working through how we work together. But one of the things that are absolutely clear from the time I've been in the business is that the business is massively collaborative, so it's actually very easy to work out how you do stuff."

Embracing that culture of collaboration was crucial in Day's first few months at the company. In his first six months, the new CDO spent time meeting more than 200 people from the supermarket, bank and Argos arms of the vast organisation. Many had worked for the company for decades, and their wealth of experience opened his eyes to a range of opportunities.

He had taken a year off work after leaving his role of CDO and Business Intelligence Officer at News UK. A session with a coach led him to draw up a list of three organisation where he would like to work based on his personal priorities, one of which was Sainsbury's. As luck would have it, within weeks the company called and invited Day in for a meeting.

Day was blown away by the opportunity and the fit with "what I was looking for in a job", and cut his break short to start a new job.

He was most excited by the vast quantities of data in Sainsbury's divided into three streams: customers, colleagues and commercial

"We're a business with loads and loads of data," he says. "We have 191,000 colleagues, which is more colleagues than some organisations have customers. We have loads and loads of products and we have millions of customers.

"I saw an opportunity in data to transform the organisation."

Starting the new job

In his induction he was told he would need to show his passport. He didn't have it and was told he'd have to return home to retrieve it before starting. Day was irritated as it could make him late for his first meeting with CEO Mike Coupe, but happy to have evidence of the company's egalitarian culture.

He made it to this meeting, where Coupe assured him that the operations at Sainsbury's were extremely straightforward.

"We're a really simple business," he said. "We buy stuff, we take that stuff and put it in supermarkets, and hopefully we sell it."

Day soon learned that the business was more complicated than Coupe suggested. That meant that everywhere there were opportunities for data analytics, from production to managing customers through the digital journey, or 'from farm to fork', as he calls it. And in a business of that size, just a small change could make a huge difference.

After his many meetings with Sainsbury's staff, he turned his thoughts into a plan. His objectives were to make the use of data faster, better and cleaner, to create a centre of excellence delivering measured value, and an enterprise community to support it.

His plans were ambitious, but Day recognised the dangers of sacrificing continuity at such a large business.

"You need to be really sure before you stop stuff," he says. "It's alright to start stuff, but stopping stuff early is probably going to be a disaster."

He recommends other new CDOs act quickly once they're sure what needs to be addressed. In his case it began with two initial priorities: deliver a successful data platform programme and hire an information lead to address the company's one major skills gap.

[Read next: Barclays Group Security Function CIO Elena Kvochko on taking a holistic data-driven approach to cyber security]

Despite CEO Coupe's mischievously over-simplified impression of the company, the Chief Executive's support and his belief in the benefits of data was vital to support Day's work

"The number one relationship you need is the most senior sponsorship, so if your chief executive is a fan of creating a data-led business, then that's half the battle," he says. "It's amazing how people fall into place if the chief exec says something's important."

The executive support quickly trickled down the organisation to develop engagement throughout the company.

After 130 days Sainsbury's had a new operating model for data. They had created a data analytics centre of excellence, and a data lab function with the mandate to "innovate at the edge".

They had identified potentially game-changing "moonshots" and priority projects. A headline stakeholder map had been built, and a structure around key programmes of work, particularly the data lake programme. Data started to become part of the Sainsbury's fabric, sharing learning across all aspects of the organisation.

Day has plenty more plans to work on as the role of data grows at Sainsbury's and all types of other businesses around the world.

"If you believe the hype then data and analytics will replace everybody's job at its fundamental level," he says. "Except for yours of course."