The future for data within organizations – who is in charge?

Over the past few months, I have had multiple conversations with customers, press and analysts about the role of data within companies. With so much information at our fingertips, we have to be smarter about how we use that data. With so many different people involved in decisions, responsibilities will have to change as well.

During this time, I have spoken about the role of the Chief Data Officer – a new position that takes on this responsibility, and makes it possible for existing businesses to put data-based decisions at the heart of their processes. However, this is not a simple process.

The overall aim is to make existing processes better. This involves using the mix of data available to improve the decisions that people make. The second is to support more off-the-wall uses of data too, where the ability to experiment and be agile is valued as well.

For those in charge of companies, the first step to take is to put someone in charge of how data is used with the business. Justifying this step should be easy – after all, every company leader wants to sell more and improve their performance. However, it does involve understanding what skill types and personality profiles are required.

The profile for the Chief Data Officer role is normally someone who is familiar with data and how it is brought together, but also with the business processes that create that information from start to finish. This combination is a potentially difficult one, as those that are well versed in data and analytics may not have the business experience to exploit those skills yet, and vice versa.

Business schools around the world are already responding to this by creating MBA courses that include “big data” modules. This should help create and sustain enough people with the skills to fill these roles. At the same time, companies are looking at how to empower their own existing staff as well.

Getting this combination right is the only way to ensure that this use of data becomes strategic. However, the CDO may not be a specific new board level role, or even one that reports to the CEO directly. It may be one that suits within marketing, or within the operations team. What is important is that it is not automatically viewed as an IT project; instead, this role has to cross over some of the normal business team delineations.

After the initial set-up phase, the second step is to enshrine the role that data will play within the business. This involves bringing information from different teams such as sales, operations, finance and marketing, and then using that data in new ways. For companies that are established in their processes, this requires full support from the CEO and management team, as this helps overcome any territory issues within the company.

This long-term view of data is important. Projects like this have to be embraced and embedded into processes as a whole, otherwise they run the risk of not delivering the results that are desired. For the management team, understanding of data will be a crucial skill to develop. Knowledge of finance and sales are required in order to guide teams and ensure that performance is at the required standard; in the future, knowledge of data analytics will be viewed in the same way.

This understanding of data has to become second-nature for business leaders. As more decisions get based on data, how that data gets put together and evaluated is critical. When you are looking for opportunities to be more successful, having the “right” data – both in terms of it being the best possible information to use, and that it is accurate – is essential too.

The role of the CDO is one that acts as a focal point for companies once they have made the decision to think about how they use data internally. Being able to apply analytics in an agile and collaborative way can provide so many potential benefits that it is hard to argue against these new uses. However, this use of data has to go beyond skin-deep presentation of information; rather, this has to be about visualization of information in new ways.

In the conversations I have had around this new position, there has been a lot of debate around whether this is a role where the business climate has forced people to take a more proactive stance on their data, or if the technologies now available have made the potential impact that much easier to access. For most companies, tools like BI represent huge opportunities to make decisions that are better and provide more impact. Cloud business intelligence makes this available to a much greater spread of people, opening up the CDO role to a far greater potential audience.