Tech pros have long understood that data would become the lifeblood of modern business; IEEE’s first Massive Storage Systems and Technology conference convened in 1974. But it wasn’t until recently that data went public, with the Wall Street Journal anointing 2012 the Year of Big Data and Harvard Business Review claiming that data scientist was the “sexiest job of the 21st century.”
Now Gartner estimates that by 2019 90% of large organisations will have hired a chief data officer (CDO), but only half will be considered successful.
>See also: The UK’s top 50 data leaders 2017
Why? What do strong industry leaders know about data that gives their business an edge?
1. Data tells the truth — if you can ask the right questions
Today’s customers use computers, often in their pocket, to research and buy products made by robots, marketed by artificial intelligence (AI), and hosted on the cloud, generating endless raw data points. New architectures, capable of capturing and storing troves of data, have been built to cope with this demand.
Successful CDOs understand how disciplines like Master Data Management (MDM) keep data clean, structured, and organised, helping data become agile and organisationally portable.
The same data sets that help marketers turn numbers into narratives could help compliance meet the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and avoid the steep, crippling fines that result from not having honest data.
2. Data adds value — if you can run the right analytics
Better data does not automatically lead to more sales. Delivery rates, customer habits, marketing conversions, product troubleshooting—resolving these issues requires a delicate balance of brain and machine: our minds may be superior pattern processors, but we can’t scan data like a computer.
Successful CDOs run business intelligence (BI) through the prism of learning rather than doing, and they embrace unexpected or unconventional data-based conclusions.
Recognising data’s fluidity, they know not to over- and under-react to new data, and they grasp the difference between data efficiency and data effectiveness. The CDO is not a top-down deductive reasoner but a bottom-up abductive reasoner, seeking data that challenge perceptions and introduce new ideas.
Unlike traditional businesses that execute a single vision based on a single model and derive value from consistency and certainty, digital businesses are dynamic data generators, and CDOs use data to infiltrate the grey areas of their business where new value can be created as data points are related back to entities (like customers, products, stores, etc.) that can benefit from the enhanced information.
3. Data builds trust and creates culture—if you can communicate its value
Getting a data maven in the c-suite is a great first step toward signalling data’s value; the successful CDO will not only be good at advocating data, but democratising it.
Pan-organisational trust in data is critical to company morale; it breaks down barriers between quantitative and qualitative employees. This process is what one of the world’s largest data centre companies describes as creating “data champions.”
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CDOs help tell the human story of data by making data more transparent and relatable. To accomplish this, they empower everyday business users and thousands of employees with tools that let them get hands-on with the data that pertains to their role. Those tools need to be enterprise-scale, but match the simplicity of intuitive software to which modern employees are accustomed, like those from Google.
4. Data fosters innovation — if you can get good teams working together
As CDOs communicate their mission and vision to organisational stakeholders, they become change agents. Building a culture around data where it can be trusted as a single version of the truth, on which to base better business decisions, strengthens every employee’s efficiency.
To lead an organisation’s data operation is not just to implement analytics and value-add projects; it is to empower coworkers in all departments to rethink business possibilities. To, in other words, inspire innovation.
What CDOs know is that when you are actively engaging data, rather than passively letting it silo in a remote outpost of the organisation, you are working with something inherently innovative.
Data collection is data growth; bringing in data stakeholders from across the organisation sharpens predictive analytics, which are the key to innovation: the better your foresight, the more opportunities you can find.
Your data management tools must foster this collaboration. One recent study suggests that as BI teams within organisations expand to handle heavy data projects, their performances will be mediated by their group characteristics and planning, as much as any innate individual talent.
If data has been driving businesses for decades, the future promises to be more exciting. Recent innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as great leaps in even narrower subsets like semantic learning and iterative learning, have only hinted at the opportunities for development and growth.
Organisations that will take advantage of these technologies will be the ones that have shrewd and visionary leaders who understand that none of it matters if you don’t value your data.
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