Data is now recognized as a fundamental business asset, a natural resource, a driver of innovation, a source of revenue, a creative force for new products and new wealth, and a job opportunity gold mine for those with the right skills.
With all of the excitement and apprehension surrounding big data and advanced analytics, and due to their enormous potential to drive wealth and competitive advantage, it isn’t surprising that many organizations are appointing chief data officers (CDO) to manage their data needs. The executive suite has taken note and wants to have the CDO join the inner circle of executive power. According to Gartner, 25% of large enterprises today have a CDO role defined. However, we believe that many organizations are selling the title short and are thus missing the opportunity to define a truly transformative role.
To create a proper definition of the CDO’s purview and potential impact on your organization, let’s first begin by discussing when you don’t need a CDO. You don’t need a CDO to establish basic data management capabilities. Too many companies are still way behind in acquiring these capabilities and there is a hurry to catch up, but it doesn’t demand a CDO. Similarly, you don’t need a CDO to improve corporate, regulatory reporting, and you don’t need a CDO to ensure that your systems talk to one another. While these tasks are important, it shouldn’t take yet another C-level exec to lead the data work needed to do so. The CIO’s office should be taking accountability for them.
Now here’s when you do need a CDO to join your ranks. Your company needs a CDO when it’s ready to fully consider and realize the competitive edge of data. You need to be ready to entrust the CDO with fully exploring what it takes to compete with data and with building the organizational capabilities needed to do so.
ARTICLE: Navigating Big Data for Big Profits
ARTICLE: Gaining Maturity
A CDO should focus on making an impact on every line of business in the organization—for example, improving decisions by the executive team (that is, informing growth decisions), optimizing sales and marketing by improving data used in the commercial processes, or even utilizing better data and analytics for the hiring process. The CDO’s time should be free from the daily tactical encumbrances to focus on data-driven use cases and trials, with an aim of making the business more competitive.
You’re ready for a CDO only when you’re asking the really important questions. Instead of asking questions like, “How do I use data to improve my current plan?” you should be asking questions like,” How does data enable us to think and do things that we could never do before?” or, “How will data help us get where we want to be before a competitor gets there first?” If your company is ruthlessly determining the right questions for which data is the answer, you’re ready for a CDO.
Becoming data-driven involves a deep cultural change that a CDO should be ready to lead. It would require rebelling against a command-and-control management style, and slaying political and data silos. It would require the fortitude to deal with the messiness of experimentation and innovation. It would require the CDO to conduct a very clinical evaluation of what it will take to succeed with your data strategy.
Finally, you’re only ready for a CDO when you have the courage to question the status quo, the patience to wait for success and the ability to act. It will take real courage, persistence and patience, over a long period, to make every aspect of the organization data-driven. And it takes that same courage, persistence and patience to address the question of whether or not your organization truly needs a chief data officer—and is ready for one.