Those who have heard me present my data strategy recently know that I firmly believe one of the first actions any Chief Data Officer (CDO) must take within a company is form deep partnerships with the business. Fully understanding the direction of the business, its priorities, its goals, its monetization strategy, and how success will be measured is vital. The best way to build that knowledge is through frequent communication and collaboration with senior leaders across the business. For example, when I began my current role as IBM’s first Global Chief Data Officer, speaking with company executives made it immediately clear that IBM’s monetization strategy is cognitive and the data strategy will enable our enterprise transformation to a cognitive business. Business leader input is critical to developing and implementing the company’s data strategy.
It is important to recognize that a CDO’s relationship with the business is a two-way street. As the CDO collects information about the business, he or she must also deliver value. This mutual relationship with the business is perhaps best seen when CDOs act in Business Optimizer mode. When focusing on business optimization, it is important to have three goals in mind: inspiration, improvement and growth.
Transformations take time. When you want to shift how people in the organization look at data, it helps to demonstrate the value that can be created from that data. For instance, tools that allow business users to understand and benchmark progress can help inspire them to consider their relationship with the company’s data in a different light. In particular, business intelligence systems that provide a self-service, guided experience where users are empowered to personalize dashboards can be the first step towards an organization-wide appreciation and use of data. In the long run, this will not only aid the company, but encourage that all-important partnership with the business.
Creating value from data for the business often means looking for opportunities to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. In fact, according to the latest IBM Institute for Business Value Chief Data Officer Survey, 69 percent of the CDOs surveyed reported that they were measured by their impact on organizational efficiency. Fortunately, there are a number of areas to look within a company to discover and eliminate inefficient practices. This means that CDOs must find a set of tools with a breadth and depth to match. Enterprise asset management, sales performance management, financial performance management and risk management are good options to consider, but the needs of each company will vary. What’s important is showing a clear improvement in efficiency that helps drive buy-in and improve the connection between the CDO and the business.
Yet, CDOs should drive toward more than just making the company more efficient; finding opportunities for growth is necessary as well. A great way to accomplish this while also learning more about the business is to focus on the customers. Acquiring, growing, and retaining customers is a challenge in the dynamic marketplace, but good data and strong analytics capabilities can help provide a clearer picture. Internally, the CDO organization can help the business create, maintain, and govern client master data, deliver a trusted source of client identifiers for the company’s clients, and create a 360 degree client profile. The customer experience can be personalized with a customer analytics solution that makes recommendations based on each customer’s buying behavior, web activity, and social media presence. The availability of this kind of information not only offers the business a chance to grow, but increases understanding within the company – understanding that will quickly become a topic of conversation between CDO and business executives.
The CDOs relationship with the business and senior leaders goes far beyond a fact-finding mission relegated to the honeymoon period of the role. As evidenced in healthy approaches to the CDO’s Business Optimizer mode, a long-term and mutually-beneficial relationship that advances both the organization’s success and the CDO’s understanding of the business is needed. Only then will a natural synergy develop that benefits the organization as a whole.