Following on from his new role as Chief Data Officer (CDO) at Carbon, Dr Al Mclean shared some insight into what his new role entails, his key focuses, and some early successes including becoming TCF 2.0 compliant, partnerships, and having papers published at the 2020 British Machine Vision Conference.

What does it mean to be the CDO at Carbon?

The CDO’s role is as multifaceted as it is amorphous. Polling a room of 50 CDOs likely will result in 50 very different job descriptions and this indicates that the role is very much customised to the needs of the business. Fundamental though, is that a CDO ensures positive business outcomes using its data assets.

There are various paths a CDO can take and each can be thought of as being associated with the different stages of maturity a business is at with regards to its data assets.

  • For example one path is the Data Integrator where the CDO primarily pursues the implementation of a modern, integrated data infrastructure.
  • Another is Business Optimiser which is focused on using the data infrastructure to optimise business processes, sensing and responding to customer and market forces, defining data policies, and establishing new sources of external data.
  • The final path is that of Market Innovator where the CDO focuses on developing and expanding cognitive capabilities to deliver insights and the ability to monetise the data through new products and services.

Carbon has already established a state of the art data infrastructure and so the role here primarily focuses on the Market Innovator along with the macro level market and legislative forces and external data expansion areas from the Business Optimiser path.

As CDO, I provide both defensive and strategic support to the board, ensuring Carbon can handle vast amounts of data in an efficient, compliant, ethical and profitable operation in an ecosystem that is rapidly evolving.

What are your key focuses?

We can break down the Market Innovator responsibilities and the elements of the Business Optimiser discussed above into Data Governance, Data Strategy and Innovation & Insights. 

Data Governance encompasses compliance, security & ethics which is a dynamic field at the moment due to legislative and regulatory changes in different parts of the world, changes in operating systems and browsers by the big providers, and interest from the media.

Data Strategy includes monitoring the macro landscape for potential impacts or opportunities to the business as well as the establishment of partnerships for scientific or technical input.

Innovation and Insights covers the establishment of technologies, tools, approaches and methodologies to extract the value in our data, to improve or create monetisation opportunities, and to evaluate emerging technologies, new industry trends and initiatives. From those insights we can foster innovation in these areas by, for example, building prototypes and proofs of concepts.

Training and Communications is also a core part of the role and collaboration is key. Working closely with the commercial and product teams allows both opportunities and risks to be acted upon and ensures positive business outcomes.

Any early successes so far?

So far I’ve spent the majority of my time looking at data ethics, compliance and academic partnerships. 

After looking at the trends in the market and taking views from internal stakeholders, I have created Carbon’s ethical data policy which defines our core principles of choice and of a value exchange between ourselves, our clients and the end user. This will help establish Carbon as a leader in ethical data custodianship and data brokering and will foster a heightened level of trust between people and technology. In particular we have taken a stance not to acquire or process any sensitive data such as data relating to racial or ethnic origin, political affiliation or health.

TCF 2.0

The industry has seen the arrival of TCF 2.0, the latest release of the IAB’s transparency and consent framework which has a significant impact on how data processors have to handle consent. I’m pleased to say that as of the 12th August, Carbon became TCF 2.0 compliant.


We also had our annual IAB registration which involves a review of our technology and declared use of device and personal data for personalised ad targeting. The IAB are tightening up their integration with consent management platforms and there are some technical requirements that have come out of our meetings and will feed into platform changes over the next month or so.


For the partnerships side the work that our Durham University PhD student on examining video question answering has shown that one of the standard data sets that is used to further the field has inherent bias and just shows how careful we need to be when working on artificial intelligence and machine learning systems.

The work is an eye opener that illustrates how we should always explore and understand inherent bias in datasets before we invest in complex and expensive solutions. Understanding and recognising datasets biases helps develop simple solutions that over-perform unnecessary overly complicated ones. We were successful in having a paper on this work accepted at the 2020 British Machine Vision Conference.

Finally, but by no means least, I have also established our first work related partnership with Teesside University and we have two Masters students starting their internships soon. One will be working on building a tool that automatically scores the compliance level of a website (especially important in the light of the regulatory changes described above!) and the second will be looking at novel visualisations of our client data to help with our work on analytics and insights.

Al & the team will be updating on all of these areas in the coming months, so follow us on Twitter and Linkedin for more news & updates.

Carbon is now part of Magnite.