Dawn of the Chief Digital Officer

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chief digital officerThe term “CDO” has typically refered to Chief Data Officer. But some industry leaders make the case for revising it to mean Chief Digital Officer.

One of them is Langley Eide, Chief Strategy Officer at Data Science and Analytics platform vendor Alteryx. A Chief Digital Officer title, she says, “leans forward into digital transformation,” and makes it clear that the person who holds this post is the person “driving the systems and capabilities that support that. So, this is a highly strategic role where real budget should be forming.”

The intersection between data, Analytics, and digital transformation lies in breaking data barriers, delivering insights and getting answers faster to revolutionize the business, commented Eide in a recent DATAVERSITY® interview. To that point, many Chief Data Officers, especially those best primed to aspire to a Chief Digital Officer role, have established successful Analytics Centers of Excellence (ACoE), she says.

“They understand the business strategy and have respect for the Analytics processes of the organization,” Eide says, and they and their teams are able to interact with the business systems that provide data to the organization in a fluid way. They’re empowered to suggest changes to those systems, even if they don’t necessarily have control over them, if those alternations enhance the quality of the Analytics they can perform for the organization.

Central to this is the point, they have crafted Centers of Excellence that are neither fully centralized or decentralized, but that “rapidly extend resources and skills between the CoE and the Analytics constituents embedded in the line of business” with the help of collaborative data exploration platforms.

Moving forward, “wherever Analytics drives the business process, Chief Digital Officers will have that in their jurisdiction and thus have the data platform in their jurisdiction as well,” she says. Traditional organizations that will be at the forefront of creating this position will likely be led by CEOs who understand that, to continue to compete in an increasingly data- and Analytics-driven world, their businesses must keep pace with the “digital natives.”

Finance, healthcare, retail, telco and any business with big supply chain considerations are among those Alteryx sees as prepared to embrace the idea of putting Chief Digital Officers in place.

A Good Chief Digital Officer May be Hard to Find

Admittedly, the idea of a Chief Digital Officer role – whether it’s taken up by Chief Data Officers, VPs of Analytics or even business personnel – has its challenges.

“You have to be extremely well-versed on the business side and able to translate that into executable Analytics, which requires a very good understanding of the data and processes of the organization,” says Eide. “There are only so many people in the world who can do that.”

The position is unlike that of Chief Revenue, Marketing, Finance, HR and other C-suite positions, which typically have a specific set of functions to accomplish that don’t necessarily involve digitally transforming how the organization runs. Executives in these positions generally are digitally-aware and understand the value of using Analytics to transform their own line of business’ (LoB) processes and systems of records, she says.

Those systems, for instance, will start to incorporate more Artificial Intelligence, benefitting from the fact that LoBs, given their defined tasks and the processes that support them, know enough about the data to insert the AI algorithms that their populations will require.

But where it gets complicated, as it will for the Chief Digital Officer, “is when you have to work across all these systems, cross-functionally,” says Eide, including dealing with custom processes that can be highly mercurial and related to how the whole business works, not just a specific LoB. But that’s really where the opportunity for strong digital transformation lies, too.

“Many manual processes exist in Analytics that must be encoded and automated to free up people’s time to focus on higher value problems,” Eide notes. “That’s where Chief Digital Officers who can align themselves with Business Management vs. Data Management will be best able to capture budget and get funding for Analytics projects that can move the needle for their organizations.”

What Alteryx Can Do for Chief Digital Officers

Chief Digital Officers, then, will be invested in data platforms that empower their Analytics producers to be creative and easily get to data that lives in different parts of the organization. “That’s where the concept of the social data catalog gets important,” she says, which is critical to the identity of Alteryx Connect, a data exploration platform that allows users – from Data Scientists to LoB analysts – to discover and collaborate on data assets, workflow visualizations, and other typically siloed information and systems.

Alteryx Connect complements Alteryx Designer, the company’s Self-Service Analytics platform that supports the LoB analyst, enabling these individuals to take data from almost any source, in any structure, from anywhere, and pull it into a drag-and-drop workflow. They can apply operators to that data to create the “perfect data set” – clean, automated and repeatable –  from which to perform Analytics.

Other intuitive operators offer more advanced capabilities, she notes, including the addition of Machine Learning libraries as potential operators in drag-and-drop workflows.

“It’s enabling an LoB analyst to do the work they’ve always done in a more powerful way,” Eide says. “They can work with more data, and have more powerful data set creation and Analytics without having to learn to code – and in a self-service way, so there’s no reliance on IT at the end of the process.”

Maybe, for example, an LoB analyst at an online loan provider wants to make it possible for a web app to perform real-time risk analysis for a customer that it’s onboarding to increase its competitive ability. That task will require analyzing various factors to determine the customer’s risk score and what loan products might be appropriate for them to produce an on-the-spot offer.

The company’s Self-Service Data Catalog that supports Metadata Management adds to the value:

“Now, a larger population wants to call on data sources and use them in a more agile way, so you have to push the Data Catalog closer to the LoB user who has the tribal knowledge of how KPIs are defined, how business processes work to create data in those data stores and then make that tribal knowledge available across the organization,” she says.

Developing richer data sets and supporting the ability to think more creatively about data to support a myriad of Analytics use cases is how companies can compete on the value of their information.

The Chief Digital Officer who can put all these pieces together – placing a greater focus on agile platforms and methodologies that allow resources, skills and functionality to shift rapidly between the CoE and LOB – will make a success out of an exciting but challenging role.


Photo Credit: g0d4ather/

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