Harnessing the data revolution: Future leaders, future skill sets

The use of data is a function that did not exist even eight years ago, but it is now beginning to impact all areas of an organisation.

Dubbed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ data is heralding new business models and introducing new job roles. Harnessing this revolution means thinking and doing things differently, especially when it comes to changing an organisation’s culture from the top down.

Indeed, the rapidly evolving role of data and the business decisions it enables (and automates) is already having a huge impact on the c-suite. As such, current and future leaders need to ensure they have the right skills to be credible and effective in a landscape dominated by data.

Leadership roles and teams therefore will increasingly reflect this significant shift. Chief data scientist, chief digital officer, chief data officer – these are not roles that existed as recently as even eight years ago, but are now joining the c-suite and are certainly influencing the executive.

>See also: Capitalising on the data revolution: The need for CDOs is growing

The traditional leadership team is rapidly evolving. The traditional roles of CEO, CFO and COO still stands firm, however new titles and triumvirates of CIO, CDO and CMO or CPO are forming and joining the table.

Gartner predicts that by 2019, 90% of large organisations will have a Chief Data Officer while research from big data London shows that 51% believe data should be the responsibility of the CDO, reporting directly to the CEO.

While such change brings huge opportunities for growth, it also raises challenges. For example, for a recent executive search mandate, 78% of the CDOs we engaged with were in their first senior leadership role. As such, they will have limited experience of how to operate at executive level and speak ‘executive’ language or use it to obtain cross function stakeholder buy-in. From our experience, this one of the reasons that Gartner’s prediction that 50% of CDO’s will fail rings true.

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However, there is much that both the ‘old’ and ‘new’ members of leadership teams can learn from each other. Dynamic, forward thinking businesses appreciate that data and digital now affect nearly every aspect of an organisation, at all levels, and can’t be viewed solely as a technology issue – they offer a way to transform business operations for the better. With this come different approaches and new, agile ways of working. Chief data and digital officers can help to introduce these working methodologies and further educate their peers about the power of digital and data, helping shape business strategies in order to deliver exceptional and innovative customer centric experiences.

They can also help to champion data throughout an organisation and ensure that a business has the right skills in place. While it is encouraging to see that 49% of organisations currently run initiatives such as internal hackathons and competitions to encourage people to value data more, transitioning to a data-led business requires a consistent and planned strategy, which must be led from the top.

>See also: How big data and analytics are fuelling the IoT revolution

In turn, more established board members can help those in their first leadership roles to develop the unique skill set needed at such a senior level. This includes not just excellent business acumen and a focus on solving business problems but also softer skills such as Emotional Intelligence (EQ), speaking the ‘right’ executive language and building collaborative networks.

The opportunities presented by digital technology and the data it enables are endless. With the right mix, balance and approach, evolving leadership teams can work together to successfully harness these opportunities, drive growth and realise the art of the possible.


Sourced by Chris Underwood, managing director at Adastrum Consulting

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...