The Data Chief | Episode 61

ThoughtSpot’s Cindi Howson on Best Practices for Driving Impact from Data & Analytics (Ep. 26 Refresh)

Cindi Howson

Chief Data Strategy Officer


Current EpisodeEP61: ThoughtSpot’s Cindi Howson on Best Practices for Driving Impact from Data & Analytics (Ep. 26 Refresh)

Episode Overview

What does it take to be a successful Data Chief? As we near this season’s end let’s revisit five data best practices that Cindi Howson first introduced us to in 2021. While much about the world has changed since the episode first aired, the core principles still hold true. They are the foundation for success. Here’s Cindi with more. 

Cindi Howson (01:31):
“In this episode of the Data Chief, I've pulled together some of the best advice from all our guests in the last year. You data leaders are so often on the move, either onto your next organization or on to your next big challenge as a change agent. I've broken this recap into five segments. The first segment covers the role of the CDO. Segment two focuses on aligning data to business value. Number three covers technology, everything from cloud to NLP to ai. Segment four, we discuss culture and people change management. And finally, we close with best practices on boosting data fluency in compiling these key takeaways. I hope you feel as energized and inspired as I do.”

Key Takeaways: 

The Rise of the Data Chief (02:54)
The role of the CDO now goes beyond getting your data house in order. You must become a true analytics leader and business partner by developing a deep understanding of how to properly build a team and nurture strategic partnerships.

Aligning with Your Business Values (08:32)
Data is the lifeline of every organization but in order to achieve buy-in from your stakeholders, your data and analytic investments have to be aligned with the goals of your company. This means asking what projects are right for your team to pursue and which ones make the most sense for the overall direction of the organization.

Rapid Technical Innovation and the Shift to Cloud (15:52)
How we store and manage our data is changing rapidly. Many companies are moving their data to the cloud and their vendors are often the ones helping drive this change.

Technology Reflects Culture (23:30)
Technology and culture are two sides of the same coin. A culture of fear, protecting the status quo, and settling for “good enough” often engenders legacy tech saddled by inefficient processes. At the other end of the spectrum, organizations who are embracing cloud and augmented analytics are empowering new decision makers at the speed business demands.

Assessing your Data Fluency (31:52)
Investing in data fluency and partnering with business stakeholders to build these skills across your organization is part of your mandate as a Data Chief. As an industry, we need to flip the emphasis from technical training to using data in a business context.

Key Quotes: 

More CDOs will realize that it’s untenable to focus on things like data architecture and governance, and too hard to show progress. So they will shift much more toward being Chief Data and Analytics Officers, which is much easier to show value.
– Tom Davenport, Professor of Information Technology and Management, Babson College

Data is a lifeline of the organizations, and any organizations to understand how to leverage data…Organizations that understand how to monetize data, will be able to get ahead of the competitions through their digital transformations. Being able to see how that [Data] is impacting change in the business, and helping us to be able to make the right decisions when we are placing an order, or when we are quoting a particular component to a customer, could mean making a profit or making a loss. – Max Chan, CIO, Avnet

The pace of change in our field is crazy. Things are changing very, very rapidly, driven in large part by data volumes growing, and the need for data freshness to grow, and the need to embed analytics into business processes and the importance of cloud. With so much change, you really have to keep abreast of it and really understand what the most innovative companies are doing in this space. – Sully McConnel, CDO, The Hartford

Our goal is very clear: free up time and free up people. That was our goal. So that’s number one. If we want to achieve that goal, what are some of the tools that are available that we can get the right infrastructure with the data, the research, the analytics, knowledge management all put together to accomplish that? And so we basically do a lot of testing and assessment with these organizations [to make the right choice]. – Gustavo Canton, Analytics Leader, Starbucks

Once the top of the organization understands what can be done, then it’s really important to take everyone with you on this journey. It’s about communicating [and] engaging, because I also feel that there’s lots of fear-mongering. If you mention the word “A.I.,” people become scared about their jobs, and the change that this might bring. It is really important that you actually put the people into the driver’s seat and say, ‘Okay, let’s use this technology to make your jobs better. Let’s make our services better, our product better — and in the end, our company more successful. – Bernard Marr, Futurist and Author, The Intelligence Revolution

I started to realize that my data literacy was at 90 percent, whereas the other individual’s data literacy, and the practices around understanding data— how it transforms through systems and then shows up for the consumer to use it, we’re on two different ends of the spectrum. My job was to educate, to inform, and to bring them along the journey, as was it to learn and to listen more than I speak. And I always have to throttle that in order to be effective. – Stephen Harris, Corporate Vice President of Cloud, A.I. and Business, Microsoft  


Cindi Howson is an analytics and BI expert with 20-plus years’ experience and a flair for bridging business needs with technology. Cindi was previously a Gartner Vice President in data and analytics, lead author of the Analytics and BI Magic Quadrant, data and analytics maturity model, as well as research in data and AI for good, NLP/BI Search, and augmented analytics. She introduced the BI bake-offs and innovation panels at Gartner events globally and is a popular keynote speaker. Prior to this, she was the founder of BI Scorecard, a resource for in-depth product reviews based on exclusive hands-on testing, a contributor to Information Week, and the author of several books including Successful Business Intelligence: Unlock the Value of BI & Big Data and SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0: The Complete Reference. She served as The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) faculty member for more than a decade. Prior to founding BI Scorecard, Howson was a manager at Deloitte & Touche and a BI standards leader for Dow Chemical. She has an MBA from Rice University and a BA from the University of Maryland.