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The CDO Journey – A Practitioner’s Point of View

I often reflect on a popular quote from W. Edwards Deming that I read early in my career.

“In God we trust, all others bring data”

Having spent several years, early in my career, in the field of heavy commercial automobile manufacturing, I realized the importance of data in improving the overall quality of the product, as well as driving bottom-line improvements in productivity, cost savings and process improvement.

That was 20 years ago.

Over the last two decades, we have seen advancements in every area of business and in our personal lives; areas that have either been changed for the better or where we have been completely introduced to a new way of working, interacting or relating to people, systems and processes. This change has been largely brought about by how the world captures, manages, consumes and interprets data.

From websites to applications to smart phones to social media to Internet of Things (IoT) to healthcare, all these would not have been possible without the advances in hardware, software, storage, frameworks, driven by people embracing these offsprings of technology evolution. Still, data and the ease of its consumption is the DNA that is making it all possible.

As a result of this, it should come as no surprise to see the rise of positions and organizations within companies that are dedicated to managing the data as an asset. This includes the Chief Data Office/Chief Data Officer (CDO) and a set of closely related C’s that includes Chief Analytics Office/Officer, Chief Digital Office/Officer and Chief Innovation Officer, as they form a core component of the data democratisation process. Much of the transformation and/or monetisation brought about by these C’s have data at the core, directly or indirectly, reliant on good quality data to drive the technology innovation.

Many companies/organisations across public, private, non-profit and government agencies are recognising the need to manage data as an asset to create breakthrough products & services, innovation, value-added services for customers, increasing revenue, cutting costs, drive customer and employee engagement and drive exponential overall results in diverse areas such as healthcare, education and law-enforcement.

Why the Series?

The “CDO Journey” article-series is an attempt to provide the readers a first-hand view of best-practices, challenges, opportunities and pain-points involved in the process of better management and utilisation of data. My intent is not to focus on the technology/architecture aspects of this process, as many companies are fairly ahead in that space while others are still trying to get on the big data or digital wave. This series is more about the glue that brings all the technology together; in effect, the canvas that involves the people, roles, selling, organizational design, marketing, business case, policies, procedures, controls and what to really focus on.

For something this broad, there is no easy prescriptive approach. What works perfectly well for one organisation would end up as a complete disaster, if implemented at another company. Still, there are some foundational items that form the basis of managing data as an asset. Add the customisations required for your particular industry, sector or company, and you will have a workable approach that can be tweaked as the program evolves.

The “CDO Journey” article-series is an attempt to provide the readers a first-hand view of best-practices, challenges, opportunities and pain-points involved in the process of better management and utilisation of data.

Why Now?

Data management functions have existed in companies in various forms and sizes for several decades now. Typically, the data warehouse lead or architecture group is tasked with the management of data. The responsibility mostly falls within the technology group and the use of data was controlled by a limited number of power users within the business.

All this worked fine until someone realises that there is more value in the data you hold within the firm than what you are actually realising currently. If you are in one of the regulated industries like financial, healthcare or the government, you already know that there are enhanced requirements or mandates around protection, handling and use of customer, product, risk, finance, medical and R&D data.

Suddenly, we now find ourselves in a situation where our techie-folks are no longer in a position to meet all of these expectations – from senior management, regulators, customers and internal business users. This situation is not because of their incompetence but because of the highly-complex and varied nature of the new requirements.

Managing data now needs collaborative expertise, collective efforts, decentralized/centralized responsibilities and an ecosystem of interlinked functions, process, technology, tool sets and architecture. It also requires an enhanced understanding on the part of C-suite leaders who need to spend the time and effort to learn what is possible with the right data within each of their functions. Ignorance is no longer bliss, when it comes to understanding this factor. It is extremely critical for these leaders to recognise the competitive advantage, enhanced controls, cutting-edge analytics and overall efficiency improvements that can be achieved if they provide the right level of significance, support, visibility, prioritisation, funding and interference as needed for the management of company-wide data.

All the above mentioned aspects need to be brought together through one comprehensive program that is usually a multi-year transformation before business-as-usual sets in and, depending on the company, may be across sites, geographic locations and lines of business. The team that is dedicated to this effort is the Chief Data Office and the person in-charge of bringing it all together is the Chief Data Officer. (I use CDO to refer to both these, please read in the context it is intended for). The CDO cannot accomplish anything in isolation but can achieve wonders with the right support.

If you or your company is thinking of setting up or in the process of creating a CDO function, the articles in this series will help clarify a lot of questions during those initial stages. If you already have a CDO function and but not getting the intended results, you will gather some tried-and-tested validating information on why the lack of progress occurs and how it can be turned around. On the other hand, if you are from one of the companies that have figured it all out and have an amazing CDO organization that works, please feel free to add thoughts in the comments section, so the wider readership can benefit from it.

How is this series structured?

    The series will address four distinct areas:

    • CDO Organization and Team.
    • CDO functions – Direct & Extended.
    • Driving Business Transformation.
    • Topics based on reader requests / specific questions.

    There may be some overlap between articles in one section or another, if that is required to fully express the intended message. The content will be tweaked based on readership comments and feedback.

    As for frequency, the initial goal is to start with one article every two weeks during the phase when we evolve the process and then get to an article every week.

    Why did I partner with Corinium?

    Over the last several years, Corinium has helped create a global community of Chief Data Officers, Chief Analytics Officers and Chief Data Scientists. Their efforts have brought forward increased visibility to these new functions, the various challenges and opportunities that exist and the path to making them real across companies and government sectors. Data is their main focus and I can relate closely to that level of passion in solving problems with data and its usage.

    In closing:

    There is more than one way to address any business-technology scenario. I am fully aware that at times, your way may be better than what I cover in the articles, as the specifics of our situation are entirely our own. In those situations, please feel free to comment and I hope we will be able to keep the discussions constructive. The entire reader community and I will be able to benefit from your valuable feedback.

    Cheers to collaborative learning!!!

    Disclaimer: All thoughts, ideas and opinions expressed in my articles are my own and do not reflect the views of my current / past employers or clients. No references or details will be provided in these articles that would expose any trade secrets or inner operations of any company whatsoever. 

    Prakash Bhaskaran is a Business-Technology leader with a passion for solving complex business problems and challenges, using a combination of business process, technology, data, analytics and organizational transformation. Through his varied experience across manufacturing / supply chain, higher education, software development, banking and financial sectors, he helps companies excel at managing data as an asset.

    Source: Planet Big Data

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