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The CDO Office: When to Do It and How

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Chief Data OfficerTwo questions align when it comes to the Chief Data Officer (CDO): How do you know your business is ready to have one? And if it is, how do you quickly get a CDO shop in shape?

Thomas Redman, The Data Doc who helps companies improve Data Quality, took up the first question during the CDO Vision tract of the Enterprise Data World 2017 Conference. His presentation was titled “Are You Ready for a Chief Data Officer?” He made the case that a company needs a CDO when it knows it must compete with data – but also that not as many companies as one might like to think have yet reached that stage.

“Every organization preaches data is an asset,” he said, but what they really treat as assets are money and people. While data’s importance is often acknowledged for the role it plays in supporting regulatory reporting or as a driving factor behind customer data hubs, its strategic value in terms of creating advantage in the marketplace against competitors is less recognized. Often, “what CDOs are doing is fantastically important, but not strategic,” he said.

The potential is there for data to change everything – to help companies make more money and gain more market share – and in fact Redman sees the strategic treatment of data as offering the best hope for that. But the potential has a hard time going up against current reality, with things getting worse when high-level corporate executives see supposedly infallible data-based predictions about Brexit or Trump’s election go awry. “If you’re trying to understand, you can conclude that it’s a confused mess at best and [hogwash] at worst,” he said.

Educating a critical mass of senior managers that at least some of their data can be strategic and drive competitiveness is critical. So, too, is getting acceptance from them that unlocking data’s potential requires human expertise, new organizational structures and sustained effort for the long term.

Getting Strategic

Redman outlined a series of stages about distinguishing the difference between an organization that considers data to be important from one that considers it to be strategic. It’s important to protect data from breaches, for instance, but not necessarily strategic. A business is closer to viewing data as strategic, however, if it sees some relation between how a department made good use of data and some upward movement in market share.

“Largely once a company puts a market focus on data, even if it’s just related to a fear of being beaten bloody, then they do need a Chief Data Officer,” he said. They’re even more ready to move in that direction as they see good traction continually achieved on various units’ Data Quality programs, where staffers can better understand reports, where costs are saved, and where the data becomes trusted and used. As those businesses begin to think about how great it would be if the rest of the organization could learn from that and get onboard, “that demands a CDO,” he said. “Quality in and of itself is not strategic but connected to marketplace performance it becomes strategic.”

There’s also an organizational side in addition to the market side when it comes to whether a company needs a CDO. If people are dealing with data but it’s not well-sorted and they don’t know what they’re doing with it – “unfit for data,” as it were – “yes, they need a CDO,” he remarked.

It’s clear, he noted, that a business is ready for a CDO when it sees the strategic potential of data or are ready to tackle tough organizational issues or both.

Setting up Shop

Now, how to get all systems ready for the Office of the CDO to become a reality? Carl-Johan (CJ) Nakamura, Global Head at the Enterprise Data Management office of healthcare IT company Cerner Corp., provided perspective on that point during his presentation titled “Standing up a CDO shop in 12 months.” He related the steps leading to establishing a Chief Data Officer function and office there, which started with the fact that when he was part of the Business Analytics team at the company, he found that a lot of time was wasted in meetings discussing things like data definitions and quality scores.

It would make more sense, he concluded, to point out the value proposition of having a CDO office that could have overall responsibility for such tasks. He got buy-in from a senior VP of a fairly large business unit and it was off to do an analytics pilot to prove the business case he had made. Following efforts that included rounding up participants from throughout the company to be part of the pilot and meeting with the business’ Global COO and Global CIO to strategize and recalibrate a go-to action plan, the Enterprise Data Management (aka CDO) office was established.

This happened in the spring of 2016 and by the fourth quarter, Nakamura said, it had already “delivered true business value to two of ten business units.”

Nakamura provided an agenda of more of the details involved in pulling together a CDO office over a 12-month period based on his experience. It started, he said, with really thinking about the problems to be solved – Data Governance, Data Quality, MDM, better Data Analytics for instance – and defining them and their conformance to defensive or offensive plays. “Your vision statement becomes the anchor statement in all you do,” he said.

Next, line up the value drivers for executives who, at the end of the day, want to claim their bonuses. Figure out what drives the sales general manager, he gave as an example – does he or she want to be able to have something akin to data-powered analytics behind the Amazon recommendation model?

Consider the fact that change is a constant, he said, and ask what capabilities exist today and what you need in the next few months or quarters, including the staffing and resourcing required to reach next-level goals. Think about whether it makes more sense for those individuals to report to the head of the CDO office or a business unit or if you have to come up with some new matrix structure. And be ready to borrow or steal more talent if you need to.

Further building out a multi-pronged stakeholder alignment model is in the mix too. You need at least one excited, encouraged and engaged C-suite member to be the CDO office champion at the cabinet table. “Ensure you have alignment with your executive data champion,” he said. “You need one as that person drives and encourage peers and management.” As you’re doing that, don’t forget that you also need friends in IT, too, “as when it comes to operationalizing your vision and strategy you’ll work with the Data Warehouse team, architects and all engineers.” Finance comrades are another force, since they’re writing the checks.

You also need to cultivate “grass roots” and “bottom-up” support, with staff members such as Data Stewards. There are about 600 of them at Cerner, for instance, living across different organizations in nearly 40 business units. “Nothing can happen if you don’t have grass-roots bottom-up movement,” he said, even though these individuals may come to the table with very silo’d perspectives. “Engage them and then have them educate their peers and managers and teammates to cross-pollinate knowledge up the chain.”

Assessing your go-to market plan is key – for instance, do you want to go big-bang enterprise centralized or follow a functional or geographic route? Much of this will depend on how your company functions and its CEO structural model. It’s also important to rationalize your pilot methodology, to figure out which business case to take on first to drive value.

Organizational Change Management is another big deal.

“We can build any sophisticated type of dashboards, predictive models and so on, but what matters is that your stakeholders consume your services and solutions,” Nakamura said.

To that end he created his own change agents and methodologies that included speaking to every business unit at every opportunity.

A value deliverables map is important to getting the office up and running, too – and keeping it that way. “Don’t hesitate to be proud and extroverted in whatever deliverables you push out the door, no matter how miniscule,” he said, and link those deliverables to an ROI. Since executives often ask to see hard returns, he put together a value to time and level of effort matrix for them.

Needless to say, there’s a relationship between this and ensuring you put strong information valuation methods in place for measuring your success (or failure) with data efforts.

“Day one you should have full transparency with senior VPs of business units to include how to and how not to measure success,” he said. “Or else they will challenge output down the road.” Putting it all in place on an executive balanced scorecard is an excellent way to offer that transparency, he noted.

Concluded Nakamura, “There’s still work to do, but the point is we proved the value proposition.”

Check out Enterprise Data World at www.enterprisedataworld.com

enterprise data world

Here are both the videos of the Enterprise Data World 2017 Presentations:





Photo Credit: Jirsak/Shutterstock.com

About the author

Jennifer Zaino is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology journalism. She has been an executive editor at leading technology publications, including InformationWeek, where she spearheaded an award-winning news section, and Network Computing, where she helped develop online content strategies including review exclusives and analyst reports. Her freelance credentials include being a regular contributor of original content to The Semantic Web Blog; acting as a contributing writer to RFID Journal; and serving as executive editor at the Smart Architect Smart Enterprise Exchange group. Her work also has appeared in publications and on web sites including EdTech (K-12 and Higher Ed), Ingram Micro Channel Advisor, The CMO Site, and Federal Computer Week.

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