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Why You Need A Chief Data Officer (& If You Don’t Have One You’re Losing Out!)

Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong. ~ Suhail Doshi, CEO​

The world is creating an incredible amount of data on a daily basis; almost too much to comprehend (thought to be 2.5 quintillion bytes... 18 zeros!) As a result, businesses are facing an enormous task of, not only, how best to deal with the rapid rise of externally generated unstructured data, but also leveraging the power of internally captured data.

One area of the business which is being seriously challenged is the C-suite; senior leaders are now facing the question of how best to leverage their data. This has led forward thinking businesses to question the best way to, deal with, and manage this change.

The answer? Introduce a Chief Data Officer (“CDO”).

Significant research has been conducted by leading authorities, regarding the newest addition to the C-Suite. IBM stated in 2015, that those companies who have appointed a CDO were outperforming their competition. Add to that the findings by research giant, Gartner, that by 2019, 90% of large companies would have a CDO. It would appear that this role was gaining momentum, but is this really the case?

The stark realisation is that over 50% of the organisations researched, actually shifted the data responsibilities to other C-Suite individuals; often relying on the CTO, CIO or other leaders to carry the burden.

A Chief Technology Officer will be concerned with the core company and other supporting technologies, where as a Chief Information Officer will focus on ensuring that the IT of an organisation supports it’s enterprise wide goals.

You wouldn’t ask the Chief Human Resources Officer to do the CFO’s job, so why would you get a non-data person doing the Chief Data Officers role?

The passing of responsibility, in my view, is wholeheartedly wrong.

Data is a full-time job, and by underestimating it’s importance, you are limiting yourself to the potential upsides. The decision to lump data in with technology is a short-sighted move aimed to save cash and ‘dip the toe in the data water’, without committing.

The role of the Chief Data Officer, should not be underestimated. The impact data should have on an organisation is vast. Data should be given huge strategic importance, and with it, the alignment amongst other decision-makers to generate competitive advantage.

A significant challenge faced by any business is how to harness the most out of their data. Without coordination or authority at the most senior level, most data initiatives fail. If this is the case, why would you not have someone leading the charge from a data perspective?

In response, here are 5 reasons why you are losing out if you don’t employ a Chief Data Officer:

  • Connecting The C-Suite:

Quite simply, having an individual champion data at the most senior level means both authority and direction can be given. The ability to provide cohesion and challenge at the C-Suite level automatically means the benefits of data will be considered.

As the saying goes, ‘you don’t know, what you don’t know’ and I wouldn’t be surprised, at all, to learn that the C-Suite are unaware of the real benefits of data cohesion because they’ve never been seen it in reality. I’m happy to be proved wrong but would guess those CEO’s are in the minority.

  • Provide Data Clarity:

The CDO will own responsibility to improve the cleanliness and quality of an organisation’s data. The easiest way to describe this with a simple visualisation. When presenting data visually, think via an interactive dashboard, it will become very apparent very quickly where the “holes” are. These will be due to ‘bad or dirty’ data & to be honest, this doesn’t help anyone.

It cannot be ignored that by having dirty data, and using it to drive decisions, it can actually harm businesses. This will lead to detrimental views on the power of data, especially if the ‘wrong’ numbers are used. As any data analyst will tell you: “Garbage in, garbage out”, so the CDO will have the responsibility to improve the data inputs throughout the organisation.

  • Provide Insights:

The art of generating actionable insights is a valuable skill in any business, but it doesn’t come easily to everyone. As you would when employing someone to complete a survey on your house, you would always ensure that person is appropriately qualified and the best person for the job. So why would you not do the same for data? Having a CDO means he/she is best placed to see the macro view whilst being able to generate key insights that others may miss. It’s a true skill.

Placing the burden and importance of data on to someone else, means opportunities can be missed. As technology advances, the introduction and adoption of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will place greater emphasis on the data available and the insights generated from it. The role of the CDO will need to grow and compliment the other C-Suite executives. Thereby, ensuring the right questions are continually being asked (they are often not!), removal of duplication occurs and clarity and alignment in direction is maintained.

  • Increase Competitive Advantage:

With data being generated everywhere, having someone who can make sense of it and use it to create competitive advantage will become a valuable asset to any business. The world is always seeking new ways of doing things, whether it be the aggregation of ‘marginal gains’ as evidenced by British Cycling’s success (ignore the kafuffle now), or the digital disruption of industries such as Netflix; data has been at the heart of it.

By having an individual who can take advantage of data insights that others can’t see, is what makes one company stand out from another. Couple this with the skills and expertise to build the right team, set the direction and ensure the decision makers on side, is critical.

  • Break Down Siloes:

How many times have you been in a meeting when one internal team gets introduced to another? It is, sadly, a staggering amount.

The Deloitte Human Capital Report 2018 states that:

‘73% of respondents admitted that their C-suite leaders rarely, if ever, work together on projects or strategic initiatives.’ ​

The whole ethos of a CDO is to remove the internal barriers, share information for the greater good and make big strides to leveraging the data held internally.

Employees shouldn’t treat data as a secret.

It should be shared but needs someone to spear head this internally with credence and clout. Business leaders should be aware of the data available and work together not against each other.

Just imagine what could be achieved if you had all the information to support a business critical decision? 10x revenue? 30% cost reduction? Who knows, but without the data insight you are guaranteed to never find out!

I believe a key responsibility of the CDO is to weave a data thread through the whole organisation, pulling the thread, when needed, to co-ordinate and align the business.

No longer should it take days or weeks to provide a report amalgamating data from various departments. If the data strategy is defined, endorsed and acted on, the whole organisation will benefit. Why will you keep doing the same manually intensive exercises time and time again, if there is a better way? Take a moment to think about the value gained from a sustainable, long-term solution.

The person leading the value drive is the Chief Data Officer.

The job is difficult, don’t get me wrong, but that’s no reason not to have a CDO. The role of a Chief Data Officer will evolve as technology continues to change the world. But by having someone who has the ability to understand the data and talk the c-suite language is one that will become increasingly in demand.

I can see it already, and there are not many of those people around.

I am confident of being able to define the questions you should answer from a data strategy perspective within your business, and then use that information to drive actionable insights. The question is, can you?

All companies should have a Chief Data Officer in my opinion.

As mentioned previously, their role is not to tell other departments what they can’t do, but to connect the dots. By virtue of sitting at the C-Suite, the CDO will have sight of all parts of the business, and subsequent initiatives. Therefore, by identifying that 2 different internal departments are trying to answer the same problem, the removal of duplication, inefficiency and internal frustration can be avoided.

It sounds simple, but it’s amazing the number of companies (the problem is company size agnostic!) that are completely oblivious to these situations. The right arm simply doesn’t know what the left arm is doing!

That said, when you get it right, it’s an incredibly powerful weapon in your leadership arsenal.

The impact a CDO can have on an organisation can be immediate. Gartner estimate that businesses can lose an average of $13.5m per annum due to poor data. If that is the case, and there is an opportunity to reduce that wastage whilst gaining competitive advantage, wouldn’t you want someone to lead this from the top?

So without a Chief Data Officer, who is championing the cause of using the data you already have to:

  • remove siloes,
  • connect the c-suite leaders, & 
  • create valuable actionable insights?

The chances are, without one, you are losing competitive advantage and quickly.

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