I believe we are at the beginning of a new era for business – one where data becomes as important an asset as money and people. I also believe harnessing the power of data is in its infancy. Not only has technology changed to allow the capture and processing of much larger volumes and varieties of data, but more importantly, the business climate has changed. Data is widely perceived, if misunderstood, by a much larger percentage of business leaders as a strategic asset.
During the three years I’ve been writing this column, I have consistently made three points about the changing role of data in the modern corporation:
- Capture of data from all sources (sales, customer, market, and competitive) and its analysis is rapidly moving to the center of modern business decision-making. The companies that understand that sooner rather than later will gain an immediate and decisive edge over their competitors.
- Access to that data must be extended to everyone in the organization, in the manner that makes each of them most productive – be it executive and management control panels for all corporate functions at the top of the organization, to actionable information (pricing, availability, product specs) for the field sales force.
- Control over that data has become so important to the enterprise that it can no longer be entrusted to the IT department, or even to Marketing, but needs to be managed by a new type of C-level executive, a Chief Data Officer, whose primary task is to maximize the usefulness of the data throughout the organization.
I have now made it my mission to figure out and build the infrastructure that CDO’s need to transform their businesses into data-driven organizations. It’s a hard problem and goes way beyond the data scientist and analyst model, which has had all the attention at this point. It’s about bringing the value of data-driven decision making to every employee.
Over the course of those dozens of columns I’ve also tried to make some important points about the nature of data, and of the Cloud/Big Data/Analytics industry, including:
- There’s a lot of hype out there – It’s easy to call yourself a Big Data or SaaS company, it’s a whole lot harder to actually be one – and to deliver a valuable service to your customers. On occasion over the years, I’ve created a bit of controversy with this column by calling out companies, big and small, whose products or services don’t really live up to their marketing.
- The product comes first – In a lot of business categories it’s all about marketing and execution – you sell the idea, then build the product to the customer’s needs. Not in the data business. Here, the technology comes first because it is a huge barrier: not only is it constantly changing, but converting technology into a usable product is especially complex. You have to think about it a lot, and all the time, to get it right. And if you try to sell it before it is ready, you will get a nasty surprise. To use a popular, but rarely followed, phrase: Real problems require real solutions.
- Managing data is harder than it looks – To do this well, you have to have lived it, you have to understand the dynamics of the organization, and you have to understand how the company uses the data it already has. As for the people you hire to help you, you can’t just scale up with smart people with impressive resumes; you need the right people . . .and then grow them inside the corporate culture.
- Aim high, but think higher – If you are really going to become a data driven business you are going to have to do some higher level thinking about the purpose of that data in your organization, where it will come from, and how it will be gathered, presented and applied..
Looking forward, this blog will continue to focus on the impact of data in business and society , and, look much more deeply into the role of the Chief Data Officer. In a data-driven organization, the CDO can be as critical to the company’s success as the head of engineering, sales or marketing. Positioning, staffing, budgeting and empowering the CDO will entail choices and tradeoffs that will be informed by the new realities of big data.