Thriving among data chaos: A CDO’s framework for success

Digital data on a globe
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Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are under immense pressure to deliver data-driven results in an increasingly complex and competitive landscape. To succeed, the chief data officer must be more than just a technologist; they must be a visionary leader and change agent who puts data at the heart of every digital transformation initiative. This sounds like a herculean task. So, what is the path to glory for CDOs?

Playing the Moneyball angle

Doors open when the CDOs can show a business leader that a data asset is under-utilized or incompletely understood. In the well-known book and Hollywood movie “Moneyball,” the Oakland A’s, a cash-strapped Major League baseball team, needed to build a competitive team of players without All-Star-caliber talent. The team hired a quantitative analyst who built a system to find undervalued players with hidden talent using data and spreadsheet software, helping the team wildly outperform expectations with the league’s lowest payroll.

Like the baseball club in Moneyball, companies want to end the old habit of gut instinct and biased decision-making. Companies hire CDOs because they recognize their data's immense yet unrealized potential. The key responsibility of newly recruited CDOs is to revitalize these dormant opportunities. They unlock the power of data and, importantly, showcase the immense potential value of information throughout a company. Business leaders know the power of data, but many struggle to understand how transformative it can become. CDOs need to show them.

The chief data officer must uncover that competitive advantage. That is why CDOs should take a business-first approach to data. In other words, data projects are tied directly to strategic and value-making initiatives. For example, data adds value to improved customer satisfaction, identifying new revenue streams, finding new ways to automate, or even identifying fraud patterns.

Manish Sood

Founder and CEO of Reltio.

Unifying customer, product, and supplier data

While changing the mindset of business and technology leaders about data value is key, a significant challenge remains for CDOs: how to best manage and leverage siloed, fragmented data across the organization. Data fragmentation often arises from how departments and systems operate independently, creating incohesive data management and governance. CDOs must break down these data silos to enable a holistic, data-driven approach to decision-making and digital transformation.

CDOs can struggle to create a unified view of the critical and varied data domains that drive the business, such as customer, product, and supplier data. These domains are essential to understand an organization's operations, market position, and growth opportunities. However, this data tends to be highly siloed and challenging to work with.

To overcome this challenge, CDOs must prioritize a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) data integration and management approach. Instead of trying to "boil the ocean" by tackling all data silos simultaneously, CDOs should focus on the most critical data friction points that are impeding progress. By targeting specific data domains and working to de-silo and harmonize the data within them, CDOs can create a solid foundation for data-driven decision-making and gradually expand their efforts to encompass the entire organization.

However, the transition from concept to action is not without its obstacles. CDOs face resistance from stakeholders who may be reluctant to change their data management practices or share their data across the organization. Additionally, legacy systems, incompatible data formats, and a lack of standardization can further complicate the data integration process. To succeed, CDOs must develop strong leadership skills, foster a data-driven culture, and collaborate closely with IT teams and business leaders to ensure their initiatives align with the company's overall strategy and goals.

Orchestrating the flow of trusted, interoperable enterprise data

CDOs must ensure that the resulting data pipelines are reliable, secure, and accessible to cross-functional data consumers. The technology background a CDO brings is not to be overlooked. Their expertise expands across vital functions like AI implementation, architecture planning, and information security; standout CDOs differentiate through depth in multiple specialties - whether master data consolidation, predictive analytics, or IoT infrastructure. The role involves the interplay between leading-edge data unification and management technologies and governance to drive enterprise-wide data products.

Additionally, successful CDOs serve as orchestrators ensuring reliable data pipelines - that clean, connected, accurate, and trustworthy data from myriad sources can flow securely–and in many cases in real-time– into the hands of cross-functional data consumers.

The CDO as strategic influencer

As we have seen, the CDO's role requires a unique combination of strategic vision, leadership skills, technology know-how and the ability to drive organizational change.

This is being tested as AI becomes of growing importance to organizations that see the need for clean, reliable, and compliant data has never been greater. A company’s data quality – and its employees’ understanding of the role of data in its success – is as foundational to a business today as product quality, marketing and sales effectiveness, financial discipline, and leadership.

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Founder and CEO of Reltio.