More opportunities are emerging with data and analytics than ever before. For organisations that want to survive, grow and outpace their competitors, data is a necessity. To truly understand and develop how a business interacts with their data, you need a Chief Data Officer.

Every organisation is set up to offer a unique service or product. This could be new and revolutionary. It could be evolution of an existing set of products that are more relevant to the market today.

Chief Data Officer: why data?

Every organisation that is growing and leading in their market is taking data seriously. They want to understand it, drive decision from it faster. Disruptors like airbnb and Uber are transforming traditional marketplaces through data and connecting technology.

We’re at the beginning of a fundamental transformation. Mobile has become one of the fastest technology adoptions in the world, ever. Venture Capital and Private Equity companies want to see how data can accelerate value to market. More established organisations want to understand ROI and move faster.

chief data officer

The demand for data scientists is outstripping supply. The demand to understand and execute on data will continue to grow and it’s not stopping. We’re only at the beginning of understanding existing, known and understood data sources.

Now add in the Internet of Things. Social media. The interactions customers have with your business when they aren’t transacting with you. In these new arenas, making sense of all this data in a timely, trusted manor is more key than ever.

What’s all the fuss?

We all exist and follow a pattern. Organisations around the world understand how their business operates, using a set of measures and KPIs. These will include financial metrics, but also a series of operational measures, customer measures as well as specific data points to understand success, risk and, if the alarm bells are ringing early enough – time to take action.

All organisations have one common interest, and that’s understanding, or the desire to really understand how their business operates, and what’s required to grow. Across the world, we’re all embracing a new way of interacting with established organisations. Some interactions remove friction, making engagement easier through web and digital.

This results in greater loyalty, both emotional and brand, but also deeper connections which means “I’ll stay with you” and continue to do business with you, through ups and downs and as business and the world continues to change.

chief data officer

The data agenda.

For others, a digital marketplace means an opportunity to switch and change. A chance to get a better price or take advantage of a new offering my existing supplier doesn’t offer.

If we consider retail, a market that we are all comfortable with, how many of us shop with the same retailers we did 1,5,10 or 20 years ago? In business, buying from a startup 20 years ago was the mark of a very brave leader!

Who books holidays through a high street travel agent? Who takes the first price their car insurer offers when it’s so easy to compare on line. Conversely, why don’t more people change their banks more often, loyalty?

Collectively, either as B2C or B2B, we operate differently. As leaders, we expect innovation. As businesses, we want the best price. Yet, we also want to be remembered, recognised for our loyalty and treated as individuals. We want, whoever we are buying from, to truly understand our needs at that moment in time. Sometimes, even before we know what we want!


Understanding your business, the beginning, middle and end

Let’s start with a series of priorities:

  • First: how well do you really know your business?
  • Second: how do you want this to change in the coming weeks and months?
  • Third: how do you want to change your organisation in order to respond?
  • Finally: do you truly understand the opportunities available for your organisation?

Earlier, we laid out a series of statements about how we behave as consumers, at home and at work. Indeed, some of us remain loyal, some of us want innovation. Or, some of us want price and a good deal. Overall, the way we make decisions is very different today than it was in the past, and will be in the future.

The key to making the right decisions within our organisations will be with data. As individuals and organisations, we can succeed or fail, but those who use the right data will win! Generating more data. More insight. Ultimately, this increases the opportunity to make both the right or wrong decisions.

There is a role to make sure that the right data is available to help make the right, meaningful decision, and execute it in a time where the cost of making that decision outweighs the investment and effort in changing a process, product or service.

Taking action

The volume of data available to analyse and optimise a process grows. We create data, we transform data, we publish data, we make operational and even people decisions on data. From product, people, financial and HR, we already have a wealth of data.

How many organisations have reviewed the health of that data? How many have checked the relevancy of the data you deploy, against a changing organisation that has been introduced internally or externally? Who owns data in your organisations?

The answer traditionally lies within the lines of business. This may be the data creators, who are entering data into their ERP or source system. Or, it may be the call centres who are rushing to finishing the call, and focused on call duration not data accuracy. Alternatively, it may even be IT teams who look after data flows and integrity through systems. Those that don’t have a deep relationship or impacted by the implication if the data is wrong.

The complexity of data is increasing. We’re move from large ERP to a culture of open source, platforms in the cloud. To develop with pace and more agility, first, data must be right. Second, data must be be relevant. Finally, you must maintain your data, and own it at the highest level – otherwise we’re all building on sand.

chief data officer

The Chief Data Officer

Organisations that are really tackling this issue head on, are appointing a Chief Data Officer (CDO). One person, who is ultimately an advocate for opening conversations for how data could supercharge the business. Furthermore, someone who is able to take a holistic view across the organisation to join up initiatives. Indeed, someone to call out risks without emotional connection, and report back to the Board.

They can identify opportunities to leverage programmes, as delivery moves from classic waterfall, to a more iterative agile led business. Moreover, they’re connecting the digital enterprise together. Overall, the CDO works across the business as an agent for change, raising the bar operationally, working alongside new product teams and, when sat with the board able to offer genuine guidance and thought leadership.

A Chief Data Officer is a champion for data. The makes decisions better, more timely and of greater value to market. However, one individual can’t do this on their own.

One individual shouldn’t become the bottleneck that slows down pace. In fact, they are the catalyst that enables change and momentum to accelerate as we know investments in projects will be built on robust data.


A champion for data

A Chief Data Officer will build an effective ecosystem around themselves. They appoint data champions who sit within the lines of business to drive the message, and act as local agents for change. Some organisations have taken to calling these data stewards, recognising and rewarding individuals that this isn’t necessarily a part time add on function.

However, this requires someone to baseline where we are today, put a series of initiatives that will improve the health of data with longevity, and be sustainable. The Chief Data Officer advocates continuously raising the data bar, their foot soldiers, the data stewards, will execute and champion this change.

Trust in data varies across business units, depending upon their maturity, the level of change taking place and external compliance being common factors. Organisations are now taking an approach where data is also considered a product, the same as any other platforms or applications.


Reality check

Map out data as products and having a set of trusted APIs. Consider where each one is identified and maintained for a specific purpose, to build trust and credibility. So, take for example stock data. This is key to a number of sectors, like retail. Every retailer has data sources for stock that it sells.

A few examples include stock data for: financial reconciliation, warehouse and inventory, customer facing, replenishment and availability in stores. The list goes on.

So, when you the organisation asks for stock information, we need to clarify how the data will be used in detail. Likewise, we need to know what business questions we want to answer from it. In fact, electing the wrong source, either for analytics or an operational system, could have dire consequences.

Continue to add value – today, tomorrow and in the future. As with any transformation that defines a change in processes and makes a positive change, we can encapsulate core themes with data. So, how does a Chief Data Officer help to continuously drive value?

Create and articulate the vision continuously.

Start with the possibilities today, and go by-modal on delivery. Quick wins excite – publish these, to the Board and across the organisation. Yet, also align to the big initiatives that will cement the data changes you put in place.

Get the Chief Data Officer on the executive team.

Data is the lifeblood of the organisation, and will always be. It isn’t a simple issue for IT, or a single business unit. The Chief Data Officer is there to embrace and deliver change, all the time. Remember, great organisations succeed with collaboration. As such, the CDO is a powerful change agent for collaboration and breaking down silos.

Build talent.

A Chief Data Officer creates the ecosystem of data champions and stewards across the organisation. Ensure all new developments and transformations have a data component. Certainly, every initiative has a responsibility to leave the data they touch in a better state than when they started. If they don’t, you’ll want to understand why!

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

The Chief Data Officer wants to be articulating the benefits and impact now. They shouldn’t be called in to fix data when there’s an issue. Try to be proactive in selling the change. Maybe it’s rationalisation of platforms to support data led initiatives. Or, it might be better operational processes as a result of data change.

Additionally, consider the value of understanding customer behaviours. This reduces the time to value in a timely manner. Measure the success of these initiatives, document your wins, and celebrate them!

Security with the Chief Data Officer.

Own and map out who has access to data internally and externally. How is your customer data governed? The Chief Data Officer can build a plan for publishing data, internally and externally. Furthermore, they will be responsible for knowing how to trace and audit, how to shut off data and enable access quickly. Also, for your trading plans and competitive data, how do you store it and enable access safely? It’s key to articulate and test your processes, regularly.

chief data officer

The Chief Data Officer in summary

A CDO is an important role to help organisations understand their business. How it’s operating, where improvements can be made and create new opportunities for the future. Moreover, a powerful advocate helps to collate and bring together all the opportunities. From there, they help to guide the Board and the organisation through the journey.

The CDO is typically someone who can be promoted within the organisation. However, they could equally be brought in as a catalyst for change. Similarly, sitting with the management team, reporting to the CEO. On balance, this group wide, change agent will be the game changing role.

Interested in driving business with data? Our 'Data-Guided Organisations' research paper explores where businesses have succeeded, and how to use these lessons to create your own data-guided organisation.

White Paper: Building a Data-Guided Organisation

Written by James Sutton


See all
group of people having a meeting, and seating around a big table

Creating a Data Culture? Consider these 3 best practices.

read more
BlogCDO Hub

Allison Nau: Exploring Diversity.

read more

5 Challenges That Could Derail Your Digital Transformation

read more
profile image

Content Access.