Best Practices

CDO Best Practices from Michael Keithley

As part of our ongoing #CxO ThoughtLeader best practices series, this week we welcome Michael Keithley, CIO of United Talent Agency, to talk about best practices for a new Chief Data Officer.

Michael Keithley has been actively involved in leading data and technology organizations for over 20 years, most recently in the entertainment industry. Michael's advice is relevant for any industry, and I think you'll enjoy what he has to say.

A transcript of the video is below.



What advice would you give a new Chief Data Officer?

The best advice I would give a new Chief Data Officer would be to focus on business, not technology. I think so much of historical IT has focused around technology and technologies and I think now in the environment we’re in business is what really drives that. So you really have to understand how the money is made, who the customers are, what the levers are that move the business and really focus on that. At the end of the day, our job is to either increase revenue or decrease cost. That’s kind of the only thing that really matters. If we can do that through the lens of data, that’s the advice I’d give.

How do you use data to create new revenue streams?

When you’re looking at revenue and trying to create new SKUs and new lines of business with data you’re typically looking externally. That’s a great opportunity, but that’s also a real challenge. Especially if you’re a multi-national, you have data sovereignty, privacy issues, security, all these kinds of things. It’s a real challenge to get the traditional business units to feel comfortable with that as an IT or CDO-led initiative. One of the things I’ve found that’s been very successful is to compare that to their daily personal lives when they’re dealing with their bank, with Facebook, or whatever. There are a lot of tradeoffs that happen with data privacy, and there are location issues. Once you help them understand contextually how those tradeoffs happen in their daily lives and that you’re cognizant of that, there’s more of a trust and a bond to allow them to consider you leading an initiative to may come up with a new way to make revenue.

How do you convince people to use data to make decisions?

I think a CDO’s job is primarily as a vision and thought leader, and as an evangelist. I don’t think there’s a “one size fits all” to get through to the organization. If you’re up at the board level or the CEO level, you have to take one approach. If you get all the way down to the entry-level folks, you have to have a different approach. I found this in my personal experience relating to consumer technologies. A short example—we had a big data initiative around The CEO wasn’t using it, and basically we were really frustrated that they’d want us to create these reports that he wouldn’t read, then they asked us to email them and he still wouldn’t read them. We weren’t really getting through. I was brainstorming with my leadership team, and I said, “How are we going to change the game here? What would we do if we were a consumer company?” Someone around the table said, “It needs to be as easy as asking Alexa.” So we did a two week experiment, and we wrote a really quick little Alexa skill that would allow the CEO to query this data. At first he was very apprehensive, but once he saw how easy it was he absolutely loved it and mandated that all his direct reports use it. That was the hook or the key where we were able to evangelize and get him to be engaged with the data. This interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.