The Strategic Chief Data Officer: Leveraging Data for Customer Value

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chief data officerAT&T is inundated with data. Steve Stine, Chief Data Officer (CDO) at AT&T says that over 186 petabytes of data traverse AT&T’s network every day, and with operational data and customer data, “there’s a lot of opportunity to enhance more of what [AT&T is] doing” for the customer. Yet, with such an immense flood of data, Stine says “you’ve got to start saying, ‘Where do I get value from it? What should I be looking at?’ All data is not created equal.”

The position of CDO is new at AT&T and in the industry as well. According to the DAMA International Data Management Book of Knowledge (DMBOK), “CIO and CTO are well established roles in IT. The concept of CDO on the business side has gained a lot of credibility in the past decade and many organizations have hired CDOs.” As a position on the business side with a focus on technology, the Chief Data Officer has a unique perspective:

“While most companies recognize at some level that data is a valuable corporate asset, only a few have appointed a CDO to help bridge the gap between technology and business and evangelize an enterprise-wide Data Management strategy at a senior level. This role is on the rise, however, with Gartner estimating that half of all regulated companies will employ a CDO by 2017.” Tom McCall, contributor, DMBOK

The CDO at AT&T

Stine started with AT&T in a three-year internship program and in the next 38+ years, he worked his way through the ranks doing technical work and sales engineering operations. He then worked as an expat running global operations domestically and internationally. Two years ago, he was asked to lead a new Automation Solutions team created to find ways to bring in more industrial automation to the business for a broader use. Then last year, he was named AT&T’s first Chief Data Officer, folding automation in his new data organization. As they moved forward, he discovered:

“The catalyst for a lot of our effort was data, and getting the right data to understand where the opportunities were, and then the impact that we could have. So, if you think about what the Chief Data Office was up to when they asked me to bring it together, this wasn’t a new thing.”

The Chief Data Office combines three functions at AT&T:

  • The data supply chain
  • Big Data
  • Automation

The focus of all three amounts to “doing more for the business.” Stine and his team are responsible for analyzing data in new ways and uncovering insights that enable the company to provide better customer service, and improve business operations at scale.

Stine said he was fortunate, “to be tapped to pull organizations together that were already doing good work.”

Vision: Start with the Customer

Stine’s vision is customer-focused and uses data as a pathway to deliver value for AT&T’s customers.

“Data is everywhere. I think we learn every day that there is greater value in aggregated data, so the ability to get organized and make use of the data is really an imperative to success for any business that there is out there.”

Having a CDO has allowed AT&T to look for customer solutions that work across business units. Stine and his team look at customer needs from an organizational perspective and see where the business units responsible for serving customers need support. “We start at the customer and work ourselves back in. We use data to start assessing product services or network performance, etc., and how we can impact that.”

The company has used Data Analytics in a variety of ways throughout the years, “But in the past, we would look at a particular opportunity, provide a solution for it, and it would be a unique instance for whatever we’re trying to do.” With an organizational perspective, Stine is able to see new possibilities for organizing data, working with analytics, and applying research to build solutions that work across the enterprise.

“Oftentimes the capabilities we’re using in one area of the business can be extended throughout other areas of the business to get broader impact. Certainly, at a minimum, being able to take all your data sets and understand where they all are, looking at the consumer and business data can provide insights that might help the overall experience for our customers.”

Data and Business Priorities

“One of [AT&T CEO] Randall Stephenson’s top priorities in 2017 was to have data powering everything,” Stine said.  Subsequently, Stine was charged with putting AT&T’s data store to use for the benefit of AT&T’s customers and for the business at every possible opportunity.

“How we really translate that when we set up the CDO is based on our core priorities, which are focused on delivering a data supply chain with common tools and superior platform capabilities. Some of that we do, some of it we look for others to do. We keep an eye on what’s going on in the industry. Because this is a fast-evolving area, there’s a lot going on and it’s moving really quickly.”


The program areas for the Chief Data Office at AT&T span a wide range of projects, from a Robotic Process Automation Program designed to shift repetitive tasks to employee-built bots, intelligent chatbots that help field techs manage routine changes, to an energy-saving collaborative program that turns off outdated field equipment. One project under Stine’s purview optimizes dispatch operations applying Machine Learning to data.

The Dispatch Platform of the Future

AT&T dispatches 70,000 vehicles daily from a multitude of routing offices for order fulfillment, repairs, and infrastructure work. An operator’s arrival time for these services can be affected by weather, traffic patterns, delivery volume, and his or her skills and experience.

Stine wondered how he might be able to help tighten appointment windows and improve the experience for both customers and operators. He brought all the data components together, which amount to a lot, and asked “How do we get really, really precise?” He landed on Machine Learning as the solution, so the data inputs can learn on themselves. “When AT&T can offer a 15-minute window instead of an appointment ‘some time tomorrow,’ the customer experience starts to look a lot better,” he said. The challenge in accomplishing that level of precision is making that happen real-time:

“You have to have the right data sources, the quality of that data has to be good, and the timeliness of it also has to be good because you’re now pumping an immense amount of data to use Machine Learning, and the optimization engine takes time to come up to speed. Our data scientists map what the machine would ultimately do, and then we start building an automated solution. Cohesively, this process hopefully will create more business velocity.”

End-to-End Incident Management

Another area where AT&T benefits from having a Chief Data Officer is with network incident management. For example, one cut fiber in a 24/7 global network has the potential to affect a number of business services, consumer services, and infrastructure components.

Infrastructure and network reliability teams need a quick assessment of the issue and a resolution, and Stine and his team are able to deliver:

“We clearly had a way to do diagnostics before, but it might have taken hours. We can now do it in nanoseconds because we can spot the issue using data, and provide immediate instructions for restoration. We’re literally looking for things, and when we see a signature and there’s a high likelihood that it’s a cut fiber, we’re already telling the people that would be responsible for restoration. ‘Prepare to go. We’re going to do isolation. We’ll tell you exactly where to go to. We may need a contractor for digging.’ So, we’re way ahead of the game. In many cases, we can then advise people ahead of them even knowing. There is an impact to service. We know it’s a cut cable. We’ll have it restored because we’re sending the right people within – we would know by the size of it, it’ll take an hour and 45 minutes, let’s say, okay? So, we can get really, really precise on that.

By bridging the gap between the business side and the technical side, the CDO is able to leverage resources from a variety of places to create new solutions. “You can really improve your service to your customers when data, Data Science, and automated solutions, are all involved.”

Stine is committed to putting AT&T’s massive data stores to work in shaping the company’s future. “I’m excited about what we’re going to be able to learn and do together with real benefit to those that matter the most – and really, the only ones that matter – and that’s our customers.”


Photo Credit: Sergey Nivens/

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