The Secret Ingredients of the Successful CDO

Guest blog by the co-authors of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, Caroline Carruthers (Group Director of Data Management, Lowell Group) and Peter Jackson (Head of Data, Southern Water).

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Compared to most of the C-Suite colleagues the CDO is faced with a set of unique problems. There are similarities, the CDO is a subject specialist, and in that respect is similar to the Chief Finance Officer, Chief Investment Officer or Chief Risk Officer. The CDO also operates across the organisation so has similarities to the Chief Operating Officer or Chief Accounting Officer. However, the CDO does have a unique set of challenges. More than anything, the role is still being defined and in the absence of certainty the assumption that the role will solve all the problems the organisation is facing. The Chief Data Officer in many organisations is a new role (the number of people in CDO roles doubled from 2013 to 2014, and probably doubled again in 2015 – Karl Greenberg, MediaPost2015), whilst the other C-Suites executives have roles and responsibilities which the organisation recognise and understand.

The Chief Data Officer is bringing a new dimension and focus to the organisation, ‘data’. All organisations will have used and depended on data for a long time, but the arrival of the CDO will be the signal that the business intends to be data driven, that data will have a new importance in the business, and that it will be pivotal to the future of the business. Most organisations will be demonstrating poor practices and bad habits in their collection, use, storage and command of data. So, the CDO will be bringing a new culture and regime and any change brings with it a level of fear.

To achieve this difficult task of changing culture across an organisation, and changing the way individuals and the business use and view their data, the CDO needs some unique qualities.

The CDO has to be a skilled communicator, able to speak to all levels of the business from the board to office floor. The real ability in the communication is two-fold: first, the ability to translate quite complex ‘data’ concepts and technology into the appropriate language for every level and face of the business; and second the ability to use communication to win hearts and minds.

The CDO needs to be a master at relationship building, they will need the support of fellow C-Suite to deliver the data strategy vision. The CDO will rely on other parts of the business to deliver much of the data strategy; IT to deliver the technology, Customer Support to deliver improved data entry. At times the CDO will need to go toe-to-toe with colleagues, but the most effective results will be achieved through good relationships.

These good relationships will be built on credibility. The new CDO must be credible to the board, colleagues and the business. The business must trust and have confidence in the new CDO. The CDO will be leading big, new ideas, and therefore must be credible.

Much of the credibility is founded on specialist data knowledge. The new CDO must know ‘data’ and have a thorough understanding of data governance, data management, data quality, data science, advanced analytics, data strategy and data technology. Perhaps not the detail that the data team will bring, but enough to develop the data strategy and create the bridge between the specialists and the board.

The CDO must be the cheerleader for data and have a driving passion that convinces other people of the value of data and a good data strategy.

The new CDO must be able to shift gear between tactical delivery and strategic planning for two reasons: first to avoid the ‘Hypecycle’, more of that in another article, it is important that the CDO delivers incremental value to the business; and second because they will need to identify the quick wins and easy fixes in the current data environment to stabilise and rationalise the current data environment whilst the data strategy is being rolled out.

The CDO will also need a sprinkling of luck. They will be faced with unexpected situations, difficult people, organisational resistance, institutional muscle memory, the proportions of these will depend on their luck.

Finally, and this probably falls across all of the above qualities, is the ability to recruit good people.9781783302574

The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook will be published in November by Facet Publishing.

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