The 123s of CDOs: Activating organizations through data and analytics

Chief Data Officers in the boardroom
This post is the second in a three-part series on how CDOs are transforming organizations through data.
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If data exists in an organization, but no one knows how to use it, does it make an impact? Turns out, Chief Data Officers are busy making sure their organizations don’t have to answer that tree-falls-in-the-forest question.

A recent study by the IBM Center for Applied Insights, Your Chief Data Officer – Reimagining the business of data, showed how Chief Data Officers are creating new value for their organizations: by envisioning a data strategy, activating the organization to use data to drive business impact, and transforming the organization’s culture to be analytically driven.

In our previous post, we introduced the various ways CDOs are implementing organization-wide data and analytics strategies. This time, we’re exploring how CDOs activate enterprises – or motivate their organizations to use data to drive business impact.

The CDOs and other C-suite executives we spoke with shared three methods they use for activating their organizations:


Bring expertise. Prove value.  Uncover insight.

Bringing expertise

“CDOs need the ability to work with leaders, understand the particular challenge they’re facing, and then determine how it could be addressed through data and analytics.” – Telecommunications CDO

Business leaders work daily to tackle challenges such as understanding their customer’s needs, improving ROI, or deciding which new opportunities to pursue.

They may have a clear idea of what they want to do and which problems they need to solve with data, but often times, they may not have a deep enough understanding of data and analytics to see whether their ideas are feasible or to know how to implement them.

Enter the Chief Data Officer – someone with deep knowledge about the organization’s data, where it can be applied and how analytics can be used to translate that data into a suitable solution for a business leader’s challenge.

The CDO takes the conceptual ideas that leaders have for improving their business and makes them a reality by acting as a translator “between the business need and the technical approach to address that need.”

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Proving value

“First and foremost, the CDO role is going to have to show some value early on, delivering some results right off the bat.” – Insurance CTO

As our study mentions, new CDOs often encounter skeptics who aren’t yet convinced of the need for an enterprise-wide strategy and approach for data and analytics, or the value that it may bring.

As with many transformational efforts, showcasing early successes is one of the best ways to prove value and refute these skeptics. One banking CDO shared, “find some near-term, easy wins” that prove “why you’re doing this, where this is going, and what sort of transformative effect you could potentially have.”

Wes Hunt, Chief Data Officer of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., has faced his share of skeptics since being appointed CDO, but he focuses on educating his peers and proving the value of data through results. “As we’ve become more data driven, we’ve been able to increase the time members have been active customers by 15%,” he shared with The Wall Street Journal this week.

Once people see this kind of impact in one area of the business, they will be eager to see the ways in which it can be applied to their own function.
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Uncovering insights

“I think an effective CDO has to be a bit of an archeologist to dig around and find new types of information, new things that could be connected together to really drive outcomes for the business.” Telecommunications CDO

Be an archaeologist... connect things to really drive outcomes.
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Since data often exists in silos, business leaders may not realize what data is available throughout their organization and how they can leverage it. The CDO, however, is uniquely positioned to look across the enterprise and see how everyone’s data intersects and its applicability across various functions.

For example, Finance might have customer spending data that could greatly impact how marketing is done, but it’s possible that marketing managers don’t know this data exists. The CDO helps bridge those gaps.

Chief Data Officers told us they invest significant time in coming up with “innovative ways to leverage the data that is available within the company,” linking it to create new insights and ultimately changing the way business is done.

Look for our next post on the 123s of CDOs to learn how CDOS are transforming organizational cultures to be analytically driven.
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  1. […] Speaking our language – We appreciate that, while you may be fluent in z-scores, k-means clustering and Hadoop, your focus stays squarely on business outcomes. Thanks for looking past the questions your company’s leaders are asking to the underlying business objectives they need to accomplish. As one telecommunications CDO told us, he’s “bridging that chasm between the business and the technology” by helping “marketing folks, financial folks and sales teams understand the power of data and analytics.” Thanks for minding the gap and making a business impact. […]

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