The 123s of CDOs: Envisioning a data and analytics strategy

Chief Data Officers in the boardroomThis post is the first in a three-part series on how CDOs are transforming organizations through data.

Which of our customers are generating the greatest ROI…? How much is a re-tweet really worth to us…? How can we improve operational efficiency…?

These are some of the questions that organizations grapple with daily. While most of them know that these questions can be answered with the right data, they don’t always know how to uncover the insights they need.

Enter the Chief Data Officer, or CDO, a modern-day data hero with the right balance of technical know-how and business savvy. Last month, the IBM Center for Applied Insights released Your Chief Data Officer – Reimagining the business of data, which highlighted 3 main reasons organizations are hungry for this new role.

One of these reasons is because they need someone to envision an overall data and analytics strategy for their business. As the point person for data and analytics, the CDO has a holistic, enterprise-wide view of data and its potential applications, which can be translated into long-term business impact.

When it comes to changing the way organizations view data, current CDOs and other C-suite executives shared three ways they got their colleagues fired up about implementing a data strategy:

  • Inspiring an organization-wide case for change
  • Creating a singular data vision and unified data goals
  • Rallying people around the CDO and the strategy – to spur action
“The catalyst that will elevate the CDO role to C level is risk. Firms that can’t show province over data management, data quality and integrity are likely going to suffer reputational risk and sanctions.” – Financial Services CDO
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A case for change

“The catalyst that will elevate the CDO role to C level is risk. Firms that can’t show province over data management, data quality and integrity are likely going to suffer reputational risk and sanctions.” – Financial Services CDO

Creating an organization-wide case for change begins with crafting a convincing message. One Insurance CDO explains that “CDOs need to be able to pull together a commercial argument that the business buys into.” Before employees can get behind a strategy, they need to understand why they need to change the way they view and interact with data.

Inspiring an organization-wide case for change and rallying people around that mission means reaching out to all units of the business. As one Telecommunications CDO explains, “I began spending quite a lot of time with various business functions and lots of different organizations, bridging that chasm between the business and the technology. I helped marketing folks, financial folks and sales teams understand the power of the data and analytics.”

“Episodic won’t give us competitive advantage. A CDO should help in a systematic, institutional way so that whatever we do we’re on a path to sustainable, ongoing competitive advantage.” – Insurance CIO
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A singular vision

“Episodic won’t give us competitive advantage. A CDO should help in a systematic, institutional way so that whatever we do we’re on a path to sustainable, ongoing competitive advantage.” – Insurance CIO

We’ve already established that one primary responsibility of the CDO is to come up with a strategic vision for the organization’s data and analytics, but the important distinction is that this vision must be a singular one – agreed upon and shared throughout the entire organization. As one Telecommunications CDO stated, “as soon as you start getting fragmentation, then you start losing the value.”

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the CDO is that he or she advocates a holistic approach when it comes to data and its applications, helping the organization to focus on unified goals. This ultimately allows the CDO to mobilize the organization as a whole behind one data strategy.

“The value of this role is going to be based on how much it interacts with all the different areas of the business. If it’s too cloistered, too myopic, it won’t be taken seriously.”  - Healthcare COO
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A rallying figure

“The value of this role is going to be based on how much it interacts with all the different areas of the business. If it’s too cloistered, too myopic, it won’t be taken seriously.”  – Healthcare COO

Without the full support and commitment of the organization, the CDO cannot effect much change.

To persuade and evoke action, a data officer needs to possess a unique blend of “strong communications, interpersonal skills and managerial courage.” These skills are necessary for engaging business leaders and other key constituents and convincing the entire organization to use data in a more effective and insightful way.

The data officer is not just a technician, but a problem solver, facilitator and leader. To inspire action, the CDO must “connect people and understand where a business leader might have a challenge to solve” and help the leader imagine – and then implement – innovative ways of tackling that challenge with data and analytics.


Look for our next post on the “123s of CDOs” to learn how CDOs are translating their strategies into action within their organizations.

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