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DataIQ members briefing – Is your CDO helping to set the vision?

Visions are an essential part of business development and improving the standing of a team within an organisation. DataIQ members discussed how much input is needed from the CDO to set the vision.
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Complement the business strategy 

One of the first things a DataIQ member from a SaaS provider mentioned was that, in their experience, being able to tie the data strategy into the business strategy. “It wasn’t separate, it was embedded,” the member said. “Part of the core component of that was explaining the value proposition, what the data analytical team was doing and supporting the strategy – showcase what their purpose is.”  

When proving the purpose of the data team vision and aligning it with the wider business strategy, one member said, “It isn’t talking about technology, it isn’t about platforms nor talking about data literacy or data governance, it is about the outcomes we are trying to achieve for the business using data analytics.” By focusing the storytelling on what the ambitions are and how they can be achieved, it is much easier for non-data professionals to understand how is complements the wider business strategy.  

There has been a huge upheaval in business strategies since the pandemic and the impact of this can be used by data leaders to highlight data benefits. One participant discussed how their business had grown year on year and this continued throughout the pandemic, but the CRM journey was non-existent. “We had realised about four years ago that we needed to embark on a CRM journey,” said the member. “But it was seen as a tech project, not a data project, and that made it a bumpy ride.” The member went on to explain how the organisation viewed data as an issue that seemed to hinder the technology-focus project rather than help it, until the leadership team realised the CRM was not providing the results they wanted.  

The member continued: “I went around all 242 people within the organisation – all levels, all roles – and had a semi-structured formal discussion around their understanding of data and vision. Following this, we designed strategies that were data driven, insight led and formed a three-year strategy that followed a roadmap to maximise data as an asset. This has created an insight-driven culture and modernised working operations. We have been on that journey ever since; we are showing the results and we are now being invited into the rooms for decision-making.”  

Work with decision makers 

One of the hardest parts of leading a data office, particularly for a data immature business or legacy organisation that does not fully understand data, is developing weighting with the key decision makers. DataIQ members have discussed previously about maintaining attention once it has been captured and keeping a seat at the big table, and it is essential that CDOs utilise their position to show how data can benefit all areas of an organisation.  

One roundtable participant discussed how they made an active choice to work as closely as possible with the strategic people in the organisation as regularly as possible. “I would be asking everyone that devised strategy questions like ‘what’s the three-year or five-year plan?’ and slowly integrating myself into those bigger discussions,” said the member. To further cement themselves into the strategic group, the member also stated how they would offer to provide help with reports and developing wider understandings of data within the business.  

Questions that should be asked to maintain conversations and involvement in organisation-wide projects include:

  • How can we achieve this goal?
  • What needs to be done to ensure success?
  • What can be done to secure operational excellence?
  • How can we improve product innovation? 

It is imperative that CDOs understand what the business is trying to achieve – whether than be revenue, market share or profit margin – being able to work with decision makers and accurately pinpoint how data can enhance their aspirations is key to long-term success.  

Work with what you have 

The way data is used varies from business to business and the types of data are incredibly diverse, but data is essential for all types of business. A DataIQ member from a publishing company discussed how data “is not really seen as a product yet” as the focus is on content. Furthermore, they added that there is still a divide between the standing held by technology and data teams, with technological processes currently receiving priority. This is slowly being changed as the growth in online content consumption continues to grow and the value of content data is starting to show results. 

Many businesses have the luxury of implementing data processes slowly, but some have incredibly rapid product turnaround times, like the daily news cycle. “The editorial team moves in seven-hour cycles, which is something we’re always up against,” said one member from a news publisher. “Tomorrow’s news is always the most important thing, so to try and find some positive disruptive force to gain standing within that short window is difficult.”   

A member from a utility company used their experience at a previous employer with a much higher data maturity to shift the focus from technology to data. “It was easy to identify assets such as engineers, but the organisation didn’t see that it had data or that these different data points even existed to optimise processes,” said the member. “We didn’t have any demand from a data perspective. We had to go out and explore to demonstrate the value because senior leadership weren’t asking us questions.” 

Be a force for change 

There will always be a balance of having to play the internal politics games of some businesses to harvesting all the low-hanging fruit you can get your hands on, but the goal is to ensure that these efforts lead to bigger opportunities for data. A CDO needs to be passionate and have energy regarding data developments for businesses and making those visions a reality. “Ultimately, you have to be resilient,” added one roundtable participant. “You will have to take some punches. As good as you were last week, next week may be a new situation and it may be difficult.” By demonstrating the benefit of data-led decisions, tenacity is a key aspect of being a CDO and getting your voice heard to set the visions.  

As one member from a government organisation stated: “Every organisation has its own specific flavour that makes things more complicated – there is no average within this.” The member went on to describe how their current challenge involves showcasing the insights and metrics that are found because of data to the decision makers. Certain areas of this business receive more interest and focus than data because of legacy operations and an outdated view on what data means, but this is steadily changing as the member places themselves in the room for critical conversations and uses storytelling to promote data.  

The group agreed that a CDO who is determined to have their voice heard when setting the vision needs to have actionable set of metrics, such as a 100-day plan and use of storytelling, to connect with different areas of the business. Through this, and by being forceful as to getting into the wider organisation conversations, a CDO can set themselves up to be an ongoing voice in strategy and vision discussions.  

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