The top 10 books every data and analytics leader must read

In the final episode of season two of The Data Chief podcast, we talk with authors of four must-read books for data and analytics leaders — two new and two time-tested.  As you invest in your continuous learning, here is the full round up of the latest top books I recommend for today’s data and analytics leaders.

Building Analytics Teams: Harnessing analytics and artificial intelligence for business improvement by John Thompson

John Thompson is an industry veteran and the Chief Analytics Officer at CSL Behring.One of the first things data leaders do when assuming the role of CDO or CAO is get the right people on their team. The best organizational model often depends on factors such as culture, maturity, and  company politics.  John shares what strategies he’s witnessed during his 30 years in the field and how to organize for the biggest impact. His writing will make you chuckle - “original sin” is what he refers to when the CDAO reports into IT. You will nod in recognition of industry debates such as the difference between a CAO and CDO. I like his framework in thinking about the model of analytics for factory versus hybrid models that allow more collaboration and experimentation. Get your copy and hear key takeaways from John on The Data Chief podcast.  

The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook by Caroline Carruthers and Peter Jackson 

This playbook was first published in 2016 and originally inspired by the authors roles in the public sector in the UK, with Carruthers leading the data org at Network Rail  and Jackson leading the data org at Southern Water. Carruthers now has her own consulting practice and offers the CDO Summer School. This 2020 edition has been updated with lessons learned and a maturing of the role.   In this way, it is a combination playbook and self-help guide for CDOs, given the high churn in this role, the difficulty in navigating so many task masters, and the challenges of having to be both a business person and technologist.  I especially liked their application of the Japanese concept of Ikigai, or “reason for being” in framing what type of CDO you want to be, what your company is asking you to do, and where the market is heading. For those starting out in this role, the chapters on the first 100 and 300 days are especially useful. This book also covers foundational concepts including key roles on the CDO team, ethics, resistance to change, and data governance. ner and s Jackson did for NNN and conferences attended. Get your copy.

Data Mesh: Delivering Data-Driven Value at Scale by Zhamak Dehghani

Are the fast moving, sometimes contradictory concepts and architectures of data fabric, data mesh, data lakehouse, data warehouse, data lakes leaving you confused? This book is a must read for our generation and I’m predicting it will be as important as the original Inmon and Kimball books. That said, I have only read the first four chapters! The publisher, O’Reilly, offers a taste of work in progress and I found Dehgani’s explanation of where the industry has been and where we are trying to get to clear, practical and aspirational. She cuts through the hype and lays the foundation for why so many complicated design choices have been made by early technical limitations, leading to a patchwork of data silos. She calls for a change in thinking, technical design, and ownership models to leverage new technologies and agile ways of working. Read the pre-release chapters or pre-order.

The Economics of Data, Analytics and Digital Transformation by Bill Schmarzo 

Bill Schmarzo, known to long-time practitioners as the Dean of Big Data, provides a practical framework for assessing the value of data and analytics investments.  What I like most about this book are the worksheets to self-assess an organization’s current maturity, with thought provoking questions on how to evolve.  Schmarzo emphasizes the need to align to business outcomes, let go of sunk costs, and operationalize models as opposed to leaving them as experiments that become orphaned. Chapter 4 provides an incredibly useful framework and case study for prioritizing analytics use cases. Get your copy.

Everybody Wants to Rule The World:  Surviving and Thriving in a World of Digital Giants by Ray Wang 

In my time as an industry analyst, I had the pleasure of debating trends with Wang and his team at Constellation Research, usually over dinner at a multitude of user conferences. Wang is a bold thinker with a “no b.s.” bold style of talking that permeates this book. Are we really destined for every industry to become a duopoly in a digital world? He certainly makes the case as we look at the likes of Amazon and Microsoft duking it out in cloud computing, Google and Facebook in digital ads, or mega mergers such as Kraft-Heinz.  Wang does an excellent job of describing why data is the central source to success - or catastrophic failure (Toys R Us, Borders) - in a digital economy. He provides advice and strategies for leaders to innovate and survive such as viewing the company within a larger ecosystem, speed of decisioning, mindset and more. Get your copy.

Excellence in People Analytics: How to Use Workforce Data to Create Business Value by Jonathan Ferrar and David Green 

How often does an organization say “people are our most valuable asset,” and yet people data and  analytics is rarely at the top of a CDOs use cases.   The pandemic has certainly made this more urgent as workers demand visibility into safety protocols, diversity metrics, and employers battle to retain the best talent amidst the “great resignation.”  Ferrar and Green have been researching this book for four years and brought to market at the right time. It is packed with detailed case studies and hard data to help you make the case for leveraging this data better. For example, at Nielsen, for every 1% of reduced employee attrition, the company could avoid $5 million in business costs. The authors cover nine dimensions to succeed, covering everything from stakeholder management to sensitive data to technology to culture. In this way, it is a must read for CDOs and people analytics leaders alike. Get your copy.

Fail Fast, Learn Faster: Lessons in Data-Driven Leadership in an Age of Disruption, Big Data, and AI by Randy Bean

Randy Bean is the CEO and co-founder of NewVantage Partners, one of the top data and analytics strategic advisory companies and author of the annual survey of Chief Data Officers.  Despite authoring dozens of articles for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Harvard Business Review over the years, Fail Fast, Learn Faster is Randy’s first book, and a true gift for our industry.  I had the privilege of previewing this book prior to its release and can say it is a must read for all executives in a data-driven world, both inspiring and cautionary. He’s packed in case studies from his years as a hands-on-advisor, research, anecdotes. Bean addresses one of the toughest challenges in becoming data-driven:  culture - and covers a topic I wish more would pay attention to: ethics. Fail Fast, Learn Faster is both inspiring and cautionary, weaving case studies, data, and best practices, making it a must read for CEOs, CDOs, and all data and analytics leaders. Get your copy and hear key takeaways from Randy on The Data Chief podcast

Infonomics: How to Monetize, Manage, and Measure Information as an Asset for Competitive Advantage by Douglas Laney

I had the pleasure of reviewing the draft of this book when Laney and I were colleagues at Gartner, and infonomics was then an emerging concept.  The book quickly became a best seller and CIO Magazine dubbed it a must read in 2018. As we look at the acceleration of digital transformation plans in the pandemic, the value of data has only increased and the more savvy companies apply infonomics concepts as a way to prioritize investments, uncover new business opportunities, and justifiably elevate the importance of data as a business asset. Laney provides researched case studies and strategies for monetizing data and analytics internally and as a data app. Get your copy and hear key takeaways from Douglas on The Data Chief podcast

Sooner Safer Happier: Antipatterns and Patterns for Business Agility by Jonathan Smart 

The data and analytics team at Nationwide Building Society recommended this book to me as a way of addressing the requisite people change management that comes with transformation projects. Indeed, the charge to become data driven involves changing people’s mindsets and breaking legacy processes. Smart draws on his years of consulting experience with Deloitte related to agile transformation. Get your copy.

Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

Storytelling with Data is both time tested and practical that I had to include it in this round up. It’s important to note that Knaflic positions this book for business professionals, not necessarily data professionals as everyone needs to become better at communicating with data. She provides best practices in visualizing data combined with data storytelling skills. I’ve given this book as a gift to customers and co-workers, and I’m predicting you will make it a must read for your team too. Get your copy and hear key takeaways from Cole on The Data Chief podcast

Bonus read: Competing in the Age of AI by Marco Iansiti and Karim Lakhana 

Like many of you, my reading list is constantly expanding, and I alternate between work-related books and literature.  Competing in the Age of AI: Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World has gotten great reviews and is next on my list to read.  

Meanwhile, for leisure I just finished Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. What a beautiful, gripping book! It’s historical fiction about the death of Shakespeare’s son who died in the plague. Happy reading!