Data Strategies

Top 5 Concerns for a Chief Data Officer

Traditionally the role of the Chief Information Officer, owning the data strategy for an organization has increasingly been carved off into a separate C-Level role—the Chief Data Officer.  In fact, this transformation has been very rapid.  The role of CDO started seeing traction shortly after the financial crisis in the mid 2000’s.  Fast forward 10 years, and the NewVantage Partners 2016 Big Data Executive Survey found that 54% of firms surveyed in 2016 have appointed a Chief Data Officer.  

That’s some spectacular growth.

This type of transformation underlines another problem:  as a CDO, where do you start?  Your attention is demanded from many different directions.  Where should your attention be focused?

In this post, I’ll talk about the top areas of focus for CDOs today to give you an idea where to start.  

In a role that heavily involves data, it’s easy to get dragged into the weeds.  Marketing demands reports, sales is telling you the numbers are wrong, and the business intelligence group is saying that they don’t have the people or tools they need to do their job.  It sounds like focusing on fixing those problems first is the way to go, right?

That would be a mistake.

Before the rise of the CDO, responsibility for data strategy generally rested with the CIO.  But in practice, the CIO had many other responsibilities not directly related to data.  And with data being recognized as much less of a strategic asset than it is today, in practice the management of data strategy fell to the highest data-centric role in the organization—typically the Director of Business Intelligence or someone at a similar level.

Much of the advice you’ll find today is overly focused on tactical advice that came out of this mid-level orientation.  

In this post, I’ll share five areas that every CDO should focus on.  Some tactics are important, but it’s critical to balance them with strategic areas of focus as well.

Tactical

Much of the tactical work will be done by existing data teams within your organization, but it’s important for the CDO to paint a picture of the end goal and get enterprise-wide buy-in on the final objectives.  I’ve labelled these items “tactical” not because they don’t have a strategic element, but because there’s a significant amount of tactical work involved and you’ll have to resist the urge to get so involved in the tactical execution that you lose sight of the strategic goal.

1—Privacy and security

Privacy and security is on everyone’s mind, and makes everyone’s list of CDO responsibilities.  After all, who can forget the lessons learned by Epsilon, Target, and The Home Depot?

This is exactly the wrong kind of publicity for a CDO.  

Chances are your organization already has people with tactical responsibility for privacy and security.  Your role as a CDO will be to ensure that those safeguards are sufficient, to make sure they’re enforced, and to prioritize security above all else.  

Everything else on this list only works once privacy and security are established.  It’s at the top of the list for a reason.

If you haven’t already, make sure you know what regulations impact your industry and business, establish standards and guidelines, put your teams in place, and ensure that everyone at your company who touches data understands their role in keeping data safe.

2—Governance

Once your data is safe, the next step is to ensure it’s consistent.  This isn’t just about the sources of data, it’s primarily about getting agreement to what that data should mean.

How many different definitions of “revenue” exist?  How many definitions of a “customer?”  While both sound straightforward, it’s very common for different departments to define what appear to be simple metrics in slightly different ways.

And sometimes the differences aren’t that slight.

Establish common, company-wide definitions for all measurable business terms, get agreement from all stakeholders, then set up a process to maintain the data, the enforcement, and the buy-in to the whole thing.

After that’s done, it’s time to move on to pulling it all together.

3—Integrate silos

Data silos can come about in a couple of different ways.

Often, data silos are source systems that grew in isolation, usually in a specific department.  For example, marketing may have implemented a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system without realizing that an enterprise-wide solution already exists.  Or maybe they did, but just didn’t want to go through the effort of getting access.

Data silos are also often created downstream of centralized systems.  This is common in organizations which treat their business intelligence and data warehouse functions as a shared service, but where no mandate exists to use those services.  It may be seen as easier to get a data feed from the data warehouse and build an isolated data mart than to go through centralized channels.  I’ve seen this often—the advantages are obvious (faster turnaround, no competition for resources, more targeted tool selection).  The disadvantages are usually even greater—decreased security, duplication of effort, lack of governance—but since the business unit creating the data silo rarely sees those disadvantages directly their choice appears simple.

A CDO’s goal in integrating data silos needs to not only take both of these types of silos into account, but also needs to have a strategy to prevent future silos.  

I’ll cover some of these strategies in a future post.

Strategic

Without a proactive strategy to deal with the items we’ve already covered, you’ll run the risk of being pulled into firefights instead of making progress toward enacting your data strategy.

Now that you’ve defined what success looks like and enabled your teams to achieve that success, it’s time to look at the top two things you’ll play a greater direct role in actually achieving.

4—Find opportunities to monetize

The term “data as an asset” has been thrown around for the last few years, but what does it really mean?  

Partially, it’s a reminder to have a mindset that existing data has intrinsic value. Data isn’t just a byproduct of systems, it’s also an asset itself and should be protected, managed, and leveraged like an asset.

The real goal of treating data like an asset, however, is using it as a springboard to grow top-line revenue.  Using data to increase operational efficiencies is a terrific way to add dollars to the bottom line, but there’s only one way to grow top-line revenue with data.

Monetize it.

I’ve covered this in more detail in previous posts, so I won’t go into detail here.  But this should be a top concern of every CDO, so if you’re not using data to create new revenue streams today start thinking about strategies that will work for your organization’s specific situation.

5—Evangelize data to the business

If you’re already addressing all the previous points, you’ve probably already started down this path.  After all, it’s hard to build a governance program without doing some level of evangelism!

One of the hardest parts of this journey will be changing your corporate culture to value data-driven decisions.  And there’s no easy way to do it—it’ll take time, focus, and relationships.  It’s really all about evangelizing.

Evangelizing to the lines of business, to the CEO, and to the front-line employees who will ultimately control the success or failure of everything on this list.

Be a champion for the data in your organization.

Tell people how their jobs will be easier and more effective if they adopt your recommendations.  What’s in it for them?

Be enthusiastic.  It’s contagious.  If you believe, they will too.

Ask for data whenever someone makes a decision. And encourage other managers to do the same.

Most of all, enjoy the journey.  The role of CDO is still very new, and you’ll have a part in defining what success looks like.

If you learn something new, share it with us in the comments—I’d love to hear from you!

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