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What CEOs need to ask CIOs about big data in 2019

"All companies need to be big data companies," is a refrain that CEOs have been hearing for some time. Yet, when it comes to actually managing big data, CEOs may face a frustrating data literacy gap.

While climbing the corporate ladder, many have had little hands-on experience with technology. Now, as modern business has become increasingly data-driven, a chasm between finance-oriented CEOs and technology-oriented CIOs may have formed, creating an uncomfortable dependency on CIOs for technical insight.

If you’re that CEO, get over it. More than ever, the best CEOs must see the CIO as a trusted ally and essential resource. “The role of the CIO in an MSE is more critical than ever,” says Ansgar Schulte, research director at Gartner. “More midsize enterprise CEOs are now focused on enhancing technology leverage and structural and workforce deployment to grow and scale the business.”

This is especially true in the age of data. Now that the new year has begun, make it a top resolution to start asking the big questions to unleash the power of big data in 2019.

"What percentage of your data is actually being analyzed?"

Never before have enterprises had access to such massive quantities of data. Even more important than the amount of data being collected, the percentage of data that is actually being analyzed is crucial. After all, it is within the data that you’ll find insights that can give you an edge on your competition.

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Servers and hard drives stand inside pod one of International Business Machines Corp.'s (IBM) Softlayer data center in Dallas, Texas, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. IBM is scheduled to release earnings figures on Jan. 21. Photographer: Ben Torres/Bloomberg

What insights are being overlooked if only a fraction of data can be analyzed in a timely way? While many companies are collecting data, they are not necessarily analyzing it. A good place to start is asking if you know the percentage of data being analyzed.

"How much effort is being spent storing, preparing and analyzing data?"

This is related to the issue of how much data is being analyzed. Before a single insight can be gleaned, datasets must be prepared. Inconsistencies in record keeping, incomplete records, or human errors like typos in personal information, can undermine the usefulness of data being collected.

Some analysts report that 80 to 90 percent of their time is used for preparation, leaving little time for deep analysis. As a consequence, some companies only crunch a fraction of their data. How much work is going into data preparation? Do the analysts have access to data that is up-to-date, complete, and correct?

Proper data collection means data analysts will be doing what they should be doing: analysis. The CIO can best advise the CEO on how to facilitate data acquisition but only if you’re asking the right questions.

"Is our data good to go?"

Today’s data operations can be monitored in near real-time enabling your company’s leadership team to respond quickly to daily challenges. The team no longer has to wait for monthly reports to make decisions. But, real-time analysis is dependant on the availability of thorough and faultless data. That probably seems obvious yet many CEOs stumble when it comes to the details of clean data. Since they are getting some results, they assume that no changes need to be made. It takes some digging to get to the truth.

As CEO you need to ask the CIO some important technical questions: Is our data accessible? Are we working with quality data? Are there variances due to input inconsistencies? Is our data understandable?

If the analysts don’t understand the meaning of the data, the analyses will suffer. As well, data cleaning is a continuous process. By working closely with the CIO, you can ensure more consistent data acquisition, which will reap benefits in faster, better data analysis down the road.

Do the analysts have the resources to do the job?

Whether it’s security concerns, access issues, or a fear of power outages, you need to know if your CIO is filling you in on major and minor anxieties which could be affecting productivity, or have major repercussions down the road. Do you know what’s keeping your CIO up at night?

It’s vital that the CEO and CIO have a relationship that’s honest and open. As CEO, you can be more confident when you know that the CIO is as frank about the problems as they are about the achievements. And you can help by ensuring that the CIO is getting the right tools and resources to do the job without unnecessary stress. Do the analysts have the compute power and storage space that they need? Do they have appropriate tools for the tasks at hand? Do they need external help?

Disconnects between the CEO and CIO aren’t new. But, CEOs of data-driven companies must look to their CIOs to drive and enable digital business.

We hear that CIOs should think more like CEOs, but that's easier said than done. In truth, it’s up to CEOs to be as informed as possible by asking the right questions to get the information necessary to effectively support the company’s vision and strategy. It’s only through asking questions and listening thoughtfully to the answers that modern, data-driven businesses can maximize the potential of their data assets, and gain more relevant and timely business insights.

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