Surviving and thriving in year three as a chief data officer

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As the chief data officer (or chief analytics officer) of your company, you manage a team, oversee a budget and a hold a mandate to set priorities and lead organizational change.

The bad news is that everything that could possibly go wrong from a security, governance and risk perspective is your responsibility. If you do a perfect job, then no one on the management team ever hears your name.

The average tenure of a CDO or CAO is about 2.5 years. In our conversations with data and analytics executives, we find that CDOs and CAOs often fall short of expectations because they fail to add sufficient value in an acceptable time frame. If you are a CDO looking to survive beyond year three, we recommend avoiding three common traps.

1) The Trap of Data Defense

Data and analytics projects can be classified as either defense or offense (in the immortal words of Tom Davenport). Data defense seeks to resolve issues, improve efficiency or mitigate risks. Data quality, security, privacy, governance, compliance – these are all critically important endeavors, but they are often viewed as tactical, not strategic. The only time that data defense is discussed at the C level is when something goes wrong.

Data offense expands top line revenue, builds the brand, grows the company and in general puts points on the board. Using data analytics to help marketing and sales is data offense. Companies may acknowledge the importance of defense, but they care passionately about offense and focus on it daily.

The challenge for a CDO or CAO is that data defense is hard. A company’s shortcomings in governance, security, privacy, or compliance may be glaringly obvious. In some cases, new regulations like GDPR scream for attention. Data defense has a way of consuming more than its fair share of the attention and staff. If not put in perspective, data defense is a trap that can divert the CDO’s attention and resources away from activities in the data offense domain that create value for the organization.

2) The Trap of Deferred Value

Projects that implement new platforms and solutions can require months, if not years, of integration and oversight. If conceived as a waterfall project, with a big-bang deliverable at the end, these projects produce little to no value until they are complete. We call this the trap of deferred value, and it is possibly the main reason that many CDOs never make it past year three of their tenure.

Forget the perfect governance solution that is 18 months away. In a fast-paced, competitive environment, an 18-month integration project can seem like the remote future. Also, success is uncertain until you reach the end.

Your C-level peers know that big software integration projects fail half the time. Projects often turn out to be more complex than anticipated and they often miss the mark.

For example, you may have thought you needed ten new capabilities, but your internal customers only really need seven and two of them were not on your original list. The issue is that you won’t know which seven features are critical until around the time of your second annual performance review and by then it might be too late to right the ship.

3) The Trap of Data Valuation

Industry analysts and the media have long touted the strategic value of data. Following the advice of analysts, a CDO may decide to embark on a project to quantify the monetary value of your data. This seems like a worthy endeavor that should attain a high level of visibility.

A data valuation project can take months of effort and consumes the attention of the CDO and her staff on what is essentially an internally-focused, intellectual exercise. In the end, you have a nice PowerPoint presentation with detailed spreadsheets to back it up. Your data has tremendous value that can and should be carried on the balance sheet. You tell everyone all about it – why don’t they care?

Don’t confuse data valuation with data offense. Knowing the theoretical value of data is not data offense. While data valuation may be useful and important in certain cases, it is often a distraction. All of the time and resources devoted to creating and populating the valuation model could have been spent on higher value-add activities.

Add Value Next Week Not Next Year

What is truly important for a CDO is to add value immediately. He or she can do this by shifting more focus to data offense and using Agile development to add value iteratively. Deliver something of value to the sales and marketing team next week not next year. Build on that value incrementally.

Pointing to specific instances in which the data and analytics teams helped sales grow the business is a very powerful message. It helps establish the business critical value of data in a concrete way.

The CDO likely does not understand the market as well as the sales and marketing teams, but he or she can apply data to their questions and initiatives. The trick is to reorganize the data and analytics teams to be responsive and adaptable to the needs of internal customers and users. DataOps can help here. DataOps subscribes to an Agile, iterative approach.

Deliver something of value in a few weeks and build on that. Stay close to users who contribute to revenue growth (offense). Solicit and implement feedback. Let growth oriented user stories set priorities.

DataOps combines Agile with DevOps and lean manufacturing methods to provide a data and analytics team with the processes and tools needed to execute data offense with speed, confidence and quality.

The CDO who delivers present value is far more valuable than one who promises theoretical value in the future. DataOps enables the CDO to pursue a relentless focus on adding value quickly, avoiding the pitfalls of data defense, deferred value and data valuation. Raise a glass to year three!

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