# In-depth with CDO Jo Coutuer

Part of the In-depth series of interviews

 Today’s guest on In-depth is Jo Coutuer, Chief Data Officer and Member of the Executive Committee of BNP Paribas Fortis, a leading Belgian bank. Given the importance of the CDO role in Financial Services, I am very happy that Jo has managed to spare us some of his valuable time to talk.
 Jo, you have had an interesting career in a variety of organisations from consultancies to start-ups, from government to major companies. Can you give readers a pen-picture of the journey that has taken you to your current role? For me, the variety of contexts has been the most rewarding. I started in an industry that has now sharply declined in Europe (Telco Manufacturing), continued in the consulting world of ERP tools, switched into a very interesting job for the government, became an entrepreneur and co-created a data company for 13 years, merged that data company into a big 4 consultancy and finally decided to apply my life’s learnings to the fascinating industry of banking. The most remarkable aspect of my career is the fact that my current role and the attention to data that goes with it, did not exist when I started my career. It illustrates how young people today can also build a future, without really knowing what lies ahead. All it takes is the mental flexibility to switch contexts when it is needed.
 Do you collaborate with other Executives in the data arena, or is the CDO primus inter pares when it comes to data matters? I would not speak of a hierarchical order when it comes to data. It helps to distinguish three identities of a Data department. The first one is the identity of the “Governor”. In that identity, peers accept that the CDO translates external duties into internal best practices, as long as this happens in a co-creation mode. We have established a “College of Data Managers”, who are 13 senior managers, representing each a specific “data perimeter”, which in its turn rather well maps to our fields of business or our internal functions. These senior managers intimately link the Data activities to the day-to-day business functions and their respective executives. A second identity is that of the “Expert”. In that identity, we offer expertise in fields of data integration, data warehousing, reporting, visualisation, data science, … It means that I see my fellow executives as clients and partners and the Data department helps them achieve their business objectives. Mentally (and sometimes practically), we measure up to external professional services or IT companies. A third identity is that of the “Integrator”. As an integrator, we actively make the link between the business of today, the technological and data potential of today and the business of tomorrow. We actively try to question existing practices and we introduce new concepts for a variety of business applications. And although we are more driving in this role than we are in the role of the “Expert”, we still are fully at the service of our clients.
 More generally, how do you see the CDO role changing in coming years, what would 2020’s CDO be doing? Will we even need CDOs in 2020? Ahah! One of the most frequently asked questions on CDO related social media! If previous two years are any predictor of the future, I would say that the CDO of 2020 is one who has solidly matured the governance aspects of Data, just like the CFO and CRO have done that for financial management or risk management. Let’s say that Data has become “routine”. At the same time, the 2020 CDO will need to offer to his peers, the technical and expert capabilities that are data centric and essential to running a digital business. And on top of that, I believe that 2020 will be the timeframe in which data valorisation will become an active topic. I explicitly do not use the word “monetisation” because we currently associate data to often with “selling data for advertising purposes”. In our industry, PSD2 [1] will define our duties to be able to exchange data with third party service providers, at the explicit request of our clients. From that new reality, an API-driven ecosystem will surface in which data will be actively valorised, to the direct service of our clients, not to the indirect service of our marketing departments. The 2020 CDO will be instrumental in shaping his or her company’s ecosystem to make sure this happens in a well governed, trusted and safe way. Clients will seek that reassurance and will reward companies who take data management seriously.
 Of course, senior roles tend to exist because they add value to their organisations, what do you feel is the value that a CDO brings to the table? I have already mentioned the CDO’s challenge to be schizophrenic ally split between his or her various identities. But it is exactly that breadth of scope that can add value. The CDO should be an “executive integrator”. He can employ “governors” and “experts”, but his or her role in the peer team of executives is to represent the transversality of data’s nature. Data “flows”, data “unites”. More than it is “oil”, data is “water”. It flows through the company’s ecosystem and it nourishes the business and the future business potential. As such, the CDO needs to keep the water clean and make sure it gets pumped across the organisation, so that others can benefit from the nutrients it. And while doing so, the CDO has a duty to add nutrients to the water, in the form of analytical or artificial intelligence induced insights.
 Focussing on Analytics, I know you have written about how to build the ideal Analytics team and have mentioned that “purple people” are the key. Can you explain more about this? Purple people are people that integrate the skills of “red” people and “blue” people. Red people bring the scientific data methodologies to the table. Blue people bring the solid frameworks of the business. Data people as individuals and a Data department as an entity, must have as a mission to be “purple” and to actively bridge the gap between the fast growing set of data technologies and methodologies on the one hand and the rapidly evolving and transforming business challenges on the other hand. And of course, if you like Prince [2] as a musician, that can be an asset too!
 In my discussions with other CDOs [3] and indeed in my own experience, it seems that teamwork is crucial for a CDO. Of course, this is important for many senior roles, but it does seem central to what a CDO does. My perspective is that both a CDO’s own team and the virtual teams that he or she forms with colleagues are going to have a big say in whether things go well or not. What are your views on this topic? You are absolutely right. A CDO or data function cannot exist in isolation. At some times, transversality feels a burden because it imposes a daily attention to stakeholders. However, in reality, it’s exactly the transversal effect that can generate the added value to an organisation. At the end of the day, the integration aspects between departments and people will generate positive side effects, above and beyond the techniques of data management.
 Artificial Intelligence in its various guises has been the topic of conversation recently. This is something with strong linkage to the data field. Obviously without divulging any commercial secrets, what role do you see AI playing in banking going forwards? What about in our lives in general? It’s funny that AI is being discovered as a new topic. I remember writing my Master thesis on the topic a long time ago. Of course, things have evolved since the 90s, with a storage and computing capacity that is approximately 50,000 times stronger for the same price point. This capacity explosion, combined with the connectivity of the internet and the cloud, combined with the increased awareness that data and algorithms have become central elements in a many business strategies, has fundamentally re-calibrated the potential of AI. In banking, AI and Analytics will soon help clients understand their finances better, will help them to take better and faster decisions, will generate a better (less friction) client experience for “the easy stuff” and it will allow the banks to put humans on “the hard stuff” or on those interactions with their clients that require true human interaction. Behind the scenes, Analytics and AI are already helping to prevent fraud, monitoring suspicious transactions to detect crime, money laundering and fraud. And even deeper inside the mechanics of a bank, Analytics and AI are helping prevent cyber-crimes and are monitoring the stability of the technological platforms onto which our modern financial and societal system is built. I am convinced that the societal role of banks will continue to exists, despite innovative peer-to-peer or blockchain driven schemes. As such, Analytics and AI will contribute to society as a whole, through their contribution to a reliable and stable financial services system.
 With GDPR [4] coming into force only a couple of months ago, the subject of customer data and how it is used is a topical one. Taking BNP Paribas Fortis to one side, what are your thoughts on the balance between data privacy and the “free” services that we all pay for by allowing our data to be sold? I believe that GDPR is both important legislation and brings benefits to customers. First of all, we have good historical reasons to care about our privacy. In times of societal crises or wars, it is the first weapon that is used against society and its citizens. So we should care for it deeply. Second, being in an industry for which “trust” is the most essential element of identity, protecting and respecting the data and the privacy of clients is a natural reflex. And putting the banking question aside for a moment, we should continue to educate aggressively about the fact that services never come for free. As long as consumers are well informed that they pay for their convenience with their data, there is no fundamental concern. But because there is still no real “paid” economy surfacing, the consumer does not really have a choice between “pay-for-service” or “give-data-for-service”. I believe that the market potential for paid services, that guarantee non-exploitation of personal data, is quietly growing. And when it finally appears, consumers will start making choices. Personally, I admit to having moved from being on all possible digital channels and tools, towards being much more selective. And I must admit that digital life with a privacy aware mind is still possible and still fun.
 It seems to me that a key capability of a CDO is as an influencer. Influence can take many shapes, from being an acknowledged expert in an area, to the softer skills of being someone that others can talk to openly. Do you agree about this observation? If so, how do you seek to be an influencer? It’s a thin line to walk and it depends on the type of CDO that you are and the mandate that you have. If you have a mandate to do “governance only”, then you should have the confidence of delivering on your mandate, just like a CRO or a CFO does. For that I always revert to the phrase: “we agreed that data is a valuable asset, just like money or people or buildings, … so let’s then act like it.” If you have mandate to “change”, to “create value”, then you have to be an integrator and influencer because you can never change an organisation and its people on your own.
 Before letting you go, a quick personal question. I know you spent some time at the University of Cambridge. I lived in this town while my wife was working on her PhD. Like Cambridge, Leuven [5] is a historic town just outside of a major capital city. What parallels do you see between the two and what did you think of the locals? Cambridge is famous for its “punts”, Leuven for its Stella Artois “pints”. And both central churches (or chapels) are home to iconic paintings by Flemish masters, Rubens in Cambridge and Bouts in Leuven. Visit both!
 Jo, thank you so much for talking to me and giving readers the benefit of your ideas and experience.

Jo Coutuer can be reached at via his LinkedIn profile.

Disclosure: At the time of publication, neither peterjamesthomas.com Ltd. nor any of its Directors had any shared commercial interests with Jo Coutuer, BNP Paribas Fortis or any entities associated with either of these.

 If you are a Chief Data Officer, a Chief Analytics Officer, a Director of Data, or hold some other “Top Data Job” and would like to share your thoughts with the readers of this site in an interview like this one, please get in contact.

Notes

 [1] Payment Services Directive 2. [2] Prince Rogers Nelson. [3] Two recent examples include: [4] General Data Protection Regulation. [5] Leuven.

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary, The Anatomy of a Data Function and A Brief History of Databases

# Offence, Defence and the Top Data Job

Football [1] has been in the news rather a lot of late; apparently there is some competition or other going on in Russia [2]. Presumably it was this that brought to my mind the analogy sometimes applied to the data arena of offence and defence [3]. Defence brings to mind Data Governance, Master Data Management and Data Quality. Offence suggests Data Science, Machine Learning and Analytics. This is an analogy I have briefly touched on in these pages before [4]; here I want to expand on it.

Rather than Association Football, it was however the American version that first crossed my mind. In Gridiron, there are of course wholly separate teams for each of offence, defence, kicking and receiving, each filled with specialists. I would be happy to learn from readers about any counterexamples, but I struggle to think of any other sport that is like this [5]. In each of Association Football, both types of Rugby, Australian Rules Football and indeed Basketball, Baseball (see previous note [5]) Volleyball, Hockey, Ice Hockey, Lacrosse, Polo, Water Polo and Handball, the same players form both the offence and defence. Of course this is probably due to them being a bit less stop-start than American Football, offence can turn into defence in a split-second in some of them.

To stick with Football (I’m going to drop “Association” from here on in), while players may be designated as goalkeepers, defenders, mid-fielders, wingers and attackers (strikers), any player may be called on to defend or attack at any time [6]. Star strikers may need to make desperate tackles. Defenders (who tend to be taller) will be called up to try to turn corner kicks into goals. Even at the most basic level, the ball needs to be transferred from one end of the field to the other, which requires (absent the Goalkeeper simply taking what is known as route one – i.e. kicking it as far as they can towards the other goal) several players to pass the ball, control it and pass again. The whole team contributes.

I have written before about the nomenclature maze that often surrounds the Top Data Job [7] (see Further Reading at the end of the article). In some organisations the offence and defence aspects of the data arena are separate, in the sense that both are headed by someone who then reports into a non-data-specialist. For example a Chief Data Officer and a Chief Analytics Officer might both report to a Chief Operating Officer. This feels a bit like the American Football approach; separate teams to do separate things. I’m probably stretching the metaphor [8], but a problem that occurs to me is that – in business – the data offence and data defence teams will need to be on the field of play at the same time. Aren’t they going to get in each other’s way and end up duplicating activities? At the very least, they are going to need some robust rules about who does what and for these to be made very clear to the players. Also, ultimately, while both offence and defence teams in Gridiron will have their own coaches, these will report to a Head Coach; someone who presumably knows just a bit about American Football. I can’t think of any instances where an NFL team has no Head Coach and instead the next tier of staff all report to the owner.

Of course having multiple senior data roles reporting into different parts of the Executive may be fine and many organisations operate this way. However, again coming back to my sporting analogy, I prefer the approach adopted by Football, Rugby, Basketball and the rest. I like the idea of a single, cohesive Data Function, led by someone who is a data specialist, no matter what their job title might me. In most sports what seems to work well is a team in which people have roles, but in which there is cross-over and a need to just get done. I think this works for people involved in data work as well.

You wouldn’t have the Head of Tax and the Head of Financial Reporting both reporting to the CEO, that’s what CFOs are for (among other things). It should be the same in the data arena with the Top Data Job being just that, the one person ultimately accountable for both the control and leverage of data. I have made no secret of my opinion that this is the optimum approach. I think my view is supported by the overwhelming number of sports where offence and defence are functions of the same, cohesive team.

Notes

 [1] Association of course. [2] My winter team sport was always Rugby Football, of the Union variety. But – as is evident from quite a few articles on this site – for many years my spare time was mostly occupied by rock climbing and bouldering. The day after England’s defeat at the hands of Croatia, the Polish guy I regularly buy my skinny flat white from offered his commiserations about yesterday. I was at a loss as to what he had done to me yesterday and he had to explain that he was referring to the World Cup. Not all Brit’s are Football fanatics. [3] Offense and defense for my wife and any other Americans reading. [4] This was as part of Alphabet Soup. [5] The only thing I could think of that was even in the same ballpark (pun intended) was the use of a designated hitter in some baseball leagues. Even then, the majority of the team have to field as well as bat. [6] There are indeed examples of Goalkeepers, the quintessential defensive player, scoring in International Football. [7] With acknowledgement to Peter Aiken. [8] For neither the first time, nor the last: e.g. A bad workman blames his [Business Intelligence] tools and Analogies.

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary, The Anatomy of a Data Function and A Brief History of Databases

# How to Spot a Flawed Data Strategy

I was recently preparing for an data-centric interview to be published as a podcast [watch this space]. A chat with the interviewer had prompted me to think about the question of how you can tell that there are issues with your Data Strategy. During the actual interview, we had so many things to talk about that we never got to this question. I thought that it was interesting enough to merit a mini-article, which is the genesis of this piece.

I have often had my services retained by organisations to develop a Data Strategy from scratch [1]. However, I have also gone into organisations who have an established Data Strategy, but are concerned about whether it is the right one and how it is being executed. In this latter case, my thought processes include the following.

The initial question to consider is, “are there any obvious alarm bells ringing?” Some alarm bells are ones that would apply to any strategy.

First of all, you need to be clear which problem you are addressing or which opportunity you want to seize (sometimes both). I have been brought into organisations where the Data Strategy consists of something like “build a Data Lake”. While I have nothing against data lakes myself, and indeed have helped to create them, the obvious question is “why does this organisation need a Data Lake?” If the answer is not something core to the operations of the organisation, it may well not need one.

Next implementing a technology is not a strategy. The data arena is unfortunately plagued by technology fan-boyism [2]. The latest and greatest visualisation tool is not going to sort out your data quality problems all by itself. Moving your back-end data platform from Oracle to Hadoop is not going to suddenly increase adoption of Analytics. All of these technologies have valuable parts to play, but the important thing to remember is that a Data Strategy must first and foremost be a business strategy. As such it must do at least one of: increase sales, optimise pricing, decrease costs, reduce risks or open new markets. A Data Lake will not in and of itself do any of these, what you chose to do with it may well contribute to many of these areas.

A further consideration is “what else is going on in the organisation?” This is important both in a business and a technological sense. If the organisation has just acquired another one, does the Data Strategy reflect this? If there is an ongoing Digital Transformation programme, then how does the Data Strategy align itself with this; is it an enabler, a Digital programme work-stream, or a stand-alone programme? In the same vein, it may well make sense to initially design the Data Strategy along purist lines (failing to do so at least initially may be a missed opportunity for radical change [3]), however there will then need to be an adjustment to take into account what else is going on in the organisation, its current situation and its culture.

Having introduced the word “culture”, the final observation is in this area. If the Data Strategy does not envisage impacting corporate culture (e.g. to shift it to focus more on the importance and potential value of data), then one must ask what are its chances of achieving anything tangible? All organisations are comprised of individuals and the best strategies both take this into account and were developed as a result of spending time thinking how best to influence people’s behaviour in a positive manner [4]. Absence of cultural and education / communication elements from a Data Strategy is more a 200 decibel claxon than a regular alarm bell.

Given I am generally brought in when organisations want to address a data problem or seize a data opportunity, I have to admit that I probably have a biassed set of experiences. Nevertheless one or more of the above issues has been present whenever I have started to examine an existing Data Strategy. In the (for me) hypothetical case where things are in better shape, then the next steps in evaluating a Data Strategy would be to get into the details of each of: the Data Strategy itself; the organisation and what makes it tick; and the people and personalities involved. However, if a Data Strategy does not suffer from any of the above flaws, it is already more sound than the majority of Data Strategies and the people who drew it up are to be congratulated.

If you would like help with your existing Data Strategy, or to kick-off the process of developing one from scratch, then please feel free to get in contact.

Notes

 [1] A matrix of the data-centric (and other) areas I have been accountable for at various organisations appears here. Just scroll down to Data Strategy, which the is the second row in the Data-centric Work section. [2] And fan-girlism, though this seems to be less of a thing TBH. [3] See: [4] I cover the cultural aspects of Data-centric work in many places on this site, perhaps start with 20 Risks that Beset Data Programmes and Ever tried? Ever failed?, both of which also link back to my earlier (and still relevant) writing on this subject.

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary, The Anatomy of a Data Function and A Brief History of Databases

# An in-depth interview with CDO Caroline Carruthers

Part of the In-depth series of interviews

 Today I am talking to Caroline Carruthers, experienced data professional and famous as co-author (with Peter Jackson) of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook. Caroline is currently Group Director of Data Management at Lowell Group. I am very pleased that she has found the time to talk to me about some of her experiences and ideas about the data space.
 Caroline, I mentioned your experience in the data field, can you paint a picture of this for readers? Hi Peter, of course. I often describe myself as a data cheerleader or data evangelist. I love all the incredible technologies that are coming around such as AI. However, the foundation we have to build these on is a data one. Without that solid data foundation we are just building houses of cards. My experience started off in IT as a graduate for the TSB, moving into consulting for IBM and then ATOS I quickly recognised that whilst I love technology (I will always be a geek!) the root cause of a lot of the issues we are facing came down to data and our treatment of it, whether that meant we didn’t understand the risks or value associated with it is just different sides of the same pendulum. So my career has been a bit eclectic through CTO and Programme Director roles but the focus for me has always been on treating data as a valuable asset.
 The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook has been very well-received. Equally I can imagine that it was a lot of work to pull this together with Peter. Can you tell me a bit about what motivated you to write this book? The book came about as Peter and I were presenting at a conference in London and we both gave the same answer to a question about the role of a CDO; there was no manual or rule book, it was an evolving role and, until we did have something that clarified what it was, we would struggle. Very luckily for me Peter came up with the idea of writing it together. We never pretended we had all the answers, it was a way of getting our experiences down on paper so we (the data community) could have a starting point to professionalise what we all do. We both love being part of the data community and feel really passionate about helping everyone understand it a little better.
 As an aside, what was the experience of co-authoring like? What do you feel this approach brought to the book and were there any challenges? It was a gift, writing with Peter. We’ve both been honest with each other and said that if either of us had tried to do it on their own we probably wouldn’t have finished it. We both have different and complementary strengths so we just made sure to use that when we wrote the book. Having an idea of what we wanted it to look like from the beginning helped massively and having two of us meant that when one of us had had enough the other one brought them back round. The challenges were more around time together than anything else, we both were and are full time CDOs so this was holidays and weekends. Luckily for us we didn’t know what we didn’t know; on the day of the book launch was when our editor told us it wasn’t normal to write a book as fast as we did!
 There is a lot of very sound and practical advice contained in The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, is there any particular section, or a particular theme that is close to your heart, or which you feel is central to driving success in the data arena? For me personally it’s the chapter about data hoarding because it came about from a Sunday morning tradition that my son and I have, where we veg in front of the tv and spend a lazy Sunday morning together. The idea is that data hoarders keep all data, which means that organisations become so crammed full of data that they don’t value it anymore. This chapter of the book is about understanding the value of data and treating it accordingly. If we truly understood the value of what we had, people would change their behaviour to look after it better.
 I have been speaking to other CDOs about the nature of the role and how – in many ways – this is still ill-defined and emergent [1]. How do you define the scope of the CDO role and do you see this changing in coming years? In the book, we talk about different generations of CDOs, the first being risk focused, the second being value-add focused but by the third generation we will have a clearly defined, professionalised role that is clearly accepted as a key member of the C suite.
 I find that something which most successful data leaders have in common is a focus on the people aspects of embracing the opportunities afforded by leveraging data [2]. What are your feelings on this subject? I totally agree with that, I often talk about hearts and minds being the most important aspect of data. You can have the best processes, tools and tech in the world but if you don’t convince people to come out of their comfort zone and try something different you will fail.
 What practical advice can you offer to data professionals seeking to up their game in influencing organisations at all levels from the Executive Suite to those engaged in day-to-day activities? How exactly do you go about driving cultural change? Focus on outcomes, keep your head up and be aware of the detail but make sure you are solving problems – just have fun while you do it.
 Some CDOs have a focus on the risk and governance agenda, some are more involved in using data to drive growth and open new opportunities, some have blended responsibilities. Where do you sit in this spectrum and where do you feel that CDOs can add greatest value? I’d say I started from the risk adverse side but with a background in tech and strategy, I do love the value add side of data and think as a CDOs you need to understand it all.
 The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook is a great resource to help both experienced CDOs and those new to the field. Are there other ways in which data leaders can benefit from the ideas and insights that you and Peter have? Funny you should mention this… On the back of the really great feedback and reception the book got we are running a CDO summer school this summer sponsored by Collibra. We thought it would be an opportunity to engage with people more directly and help form a community that can help and learn from each other.
 I also hear that you are working on a sequel to your successful book, can you give readers a sneak preview of what this will be covering? Of course, it’s obviously still about data but is more focused on the transformation an organisation needs to go through in order to get the best from it. It’s due out spring next year so watch this space.
 As well as the activities we have covered, I know that you are engaged in some other interesting and important areas. Can you first of all tell me a bit about your work to get children, and in particular girls, involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)? I would love to. I’m really lucky that I get the chance to talk to girls in school about STEM subjects and to give them an insight into some of the many different careers that might interest them that they may not have been aware of. I don’t remember my careers counsellor at school telling me I could be a CDO one day! There are two key messages that I really try to get across to them. First, I genuinely believe that everyone has a talent, something that excites them and they are good at but if you don’t try different things you may never know what that is. Second, I don’t care if they do go into a STEM subject. What I care passionately about is that they don’t limit themselves based on other people’s preconceptions.
 Finally, I know that you are also a trustee of CILIP the information association and are working with them to develop data-specific professional qualifications. Why do you think that this is important? I don’t think that data professionals necessarily get the credit they deserve and it can also be really hard to move into our field without some pretty weighty qualifications. I want to open the subject out so we can have access courses to get into data as well as recognised qualifications to continue to professionalise and value the discipline of data.
 Caroline, it has been a pleasure to speak. Thank you for sharing your ideas with us today.

Caroline Carruthers can be reached at caroline.carruthers@carruthersandjackson.com.

Disclosure: At the time of publication, neither peterjamesthomas.com Ltd. nor any of its Directors had any shared commercial interests with Caroline Carruthers or any entities associated with her.

 If you are a Chief Data Officer, a Chief Analytics Officer, a Director of Data, or hold some other “Top Data Job” and would like to share your thoughts with the readers of this site in an interview like this one, please get in contact.

Notes

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary, The Anatomy of a Data Function and A Brief History of Databases

# Building Momentum – How to begin becoming a Data-driven Organisation

Introduction

It is hard to find an organisation that does not aspire to being data-driven these days. While there is undoubtedly an element of me-tooism about some of these statements (or a fear of competitors / new entrants who may use their data better, gaining a competitive advantage), often there is a clear case for the better leverage of data assets. This may be to do with the stand-alone benefits of such an approach (enhanced understanding of customers, competitors, products / services etc. [1]), or as a keystone supporting a broader digital transformation.

However, in my experience, many organisations have much less mature ideas about how to achieve their data goals than they do about setting them. Given the lack of executive experience in data matters [2], it is not atypical that one of the large strategy consultants is engaged to shape a data strategy; one of the large management consultants is engaged to turn this into something executable and maybe to select some suitable technologies; and one of the large systems integrators (or increasingly off-shore organisations migrating up the food chain) is engaged to do the work, which by this stage normally relates to building technology capabilities, implementing a new architecture or some other technology-focussed programme.

Even if each of these partners does a great job – which one would hope they do at their price points – a few things invariably get lost along the way. These include:

1. A data strategy that is closely coupled to the organisation’s actual needs rather than something more general.

While there are undoubtedly benefits in adopting best practice for an industry, there is also something to be said for a more tailored approach, tied to business imperatives and which may have the possibility to define the new best practice. In some areas of business, it makes sense to take the tried and tested approach, to be a part of the herd. In others – and data is in my opinion one of these – taking a more innovative and distinctive path is more likely to lead to success.

2. Connective tissue between strategy and execution.

The distinctions between the three types of organisations I cite above are becoming more blurry (not least as each seeks to develop new revenue streams). This can lead to the strategy consultants developing plans, which get ripped up by the management consultants; the management consultants revisiting the initial strategy; the systems integrators / off-shorers replanning, or opening up technical and architecture discussions again. Of course this means the client paying at least twice for this type of work. What also disappears is the type of accountability that comes when the same people are responsible for developing a strategy, turning this into a practical plan and then executing this [3].

3. Focus on the cultural aspects of becoming more data-driven.

This is both one of the most important factors that determines success or failure [4] and something that – frankly because it is not easy to do – often falls by the wayside. By the time that the third external firm has been on-boarded, the name of the game is generally building something (e.g. a Data Lake, or an analytics platform) rather than the more human questions of who will use this, in what way, to achieve which business objectives.

Of course a way to address the above is to allocate some experienced people (internal or external, ideally probably a blend) who stay the course from development of data strategy through fleshing this out to execution and who – importantly – can also take a lead role in driving the necessary cultural change. It also makes sense to think about engaging organisations who are small enough to tailor their approach to your needs and who will not force a “cookie cutter” approach. I have written extensively about how – with the benefit of such people on board – to run such a data transformation programme [5]. Here I am going to focus on just one phase of such a programme and often the most important one; getting going and building momentum.

A Third Way

There are a couple of schools of thought here:

1. Focus on laying solid data foundations and thus build data capabilities that are robust and will stand the test of time.

2. Focus on delivering something ASAP in the data arena, which will build the case for further investment.

There are points in favour of both approaches and criticisms that can be made of each as well. For example, while the first approach will be necessary at some point (and indeed at a relatively early one) in order to sustain a transformation to a data-driven organisation, it obviously takes time and effort. Exclusive focus on this area can use up money, political capital and try the patience of sponsors. Few business initiatives will be funded for years if they do not begin to have at least some return relatively soon. This remains the case even if the benefits down the line are potentially great.

Equally, the second approach can seem very productive at first, but will generally end up trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear [6]. Inevitably, without improvements to the underlying data landscape, limitations in the type of useful analytics that be carried out will be reached; sometimes sooner that might be thought. While I don’t generally refer to religious topics on this blog [7], the Parable of the Sower is apposite here. Focussing on delivering analytics without attending to the broader data landscape is indeed like the seed that fell on stony ground. The practice yields results that spring up, only to wilt when the sun gets hot, given that they have no real roots [8].

So what to do? Well, there is a Third Way. This involves blending both approaches. I tend to think of this in the following way:

First of all, this is a cartoon, it is not intended to indicate actual percentages, just to illustrate a general trend. In real life, it is likely that you will cycle round multiple times and indeed have different parallel work-streams at different stages. The general points I am trying to convey with this diagram are:

1. At the beginning of a data transformation programme, there should probably be more emphasis on interim delivery and tactical changes. However, imoportantly, there is never zero strategic work. As things progress, the emphasis should swing more to strategic, long-term work. But again, even in a mature programme, there is never zero tactical work. There can also of course be several iterations of such shifts in approach.

2. Interim and tactical steps should relate to not just analytics, but also to making point fixes to the data landscape where possible. It is also important to kick off diagnostic work, which will establish how bad things are and also suggest areas which could be attacked sooner rather than later; this too can initially be done on a tactical basis and then made more robust later. In general, if you consider the span of strategic data work, it makes sense to kick off cut-down (and maybe drastically cut-down) versions of many activities early on.

3. Importantly, the tactical and strategic work-streams should not be hermetically sealed. What you actually want is healthy interplay. Building some early, “quick and dirty” analytics may highlight areas that should be covered by a data audit, or where there are obvious weaknesses in a data architecture. Any data assets that are built on a more strategic basis should also be leveraged by tactical work, improving its utility and probably increasing its lifespan.

Interconnected Activities

At the beginning of this article, I present a diagram (repeated below) which covers three types of initial data activities, the sort of work that – if executed competently – can begin to generate momentum for a data programme. The exhibit also references Data Strategy.

Let’s look at each of these four things in some more detail:

1. Analytic Point Solutions

Where data has historically been locked up in either hard-to-use repositories or in source systems themselves, liberating even a bit of it can be very helpful. This does not have to be with snazzy tools (unless you want to showcase the art of the possible). An anecdote might help to explain.

At one organisation, they had existing reporting that was actually not horrendous, but it was hard to access, hard to parameterise and hard to do follow-on analysis on. I took it upon myself to run 30 plus reports on a weekly and monthly basis, download the contents to Excel, front these with some basic graphs and make these all available on an intranet. This meant that people from Country A or Department B could go straight to their figures rather than having to run fiddly reports. It also meant that they had an immediate visual overview – including some comparisons to prior periods and trends over time (which were not available in the original reports). Importantly, they also got a basic pivot table, which they could use to further examine what was going on. These simple steps (if a bit laborious for me) had a massive impact. I later replaced the Excel with pages I wrote in a new web-reporting tool we built in house. Ultimately, my team moved these to our strategic Analytics platform.

This shows how point solutions can be very valuable and also morph into more strategic facilities over time.

2. Data Process Improvements

Data issues may be to do with a range of problems from poor validation in systems, to bad data integration, but immature data processes and insufficient education for data entry staff are often key conributors to overall problems. Identifying such issues and quantifying their impact should be the province of a Data Audit, which is something I would recommend considering early on in a data programme. Once more this can be basic at first, considering just superficial issues, and then expand over time.

While fixing some data process problems and making a stepped change in data quality will both probably take time an effort, it may be possible to identify and target some narrower areas in which progress can be made quite quickly. It may be that one key attribute necessary for analysis is poorly entered and validated. Some good communications around this problem can help, better guidance for people entering it is also useful and some “quick and dirty” reporting highlighting problems and – hopefully – tracking improvement can make a difference quicker than you might expect [9].

3. Data Architecture Enhancements

Improving a Data Architecture sounds like a multi-year task and indeed it can often be just that. However, it may be that there are some areas where judicious application of limited resource and funds can make a difference early on. A team engaged in a data programme should seek out such opportunities and expect to devote time and attention to them in parallel with other work. Architectural improvements would be best coordinated with data process improvements where feasible.

An example might be providing a web-based tool to look up valid codes for entry into a system. Of course it would be a lot better to embed this functionality in the system itself, but it may take many months to include this in a change schedule whereas the tool could be made available quickly. I have had some success with extending such a tool to allow users to build their own hierarchies, which can then be reflected in either point analytics solutions or more strategic offerings. It may be possible to later offer the tool’s functionality via web-services allowing it to be integrated into more than one system.

4. Data Strategy

I have written extensively about Data Strategy on this site [10]. What I wanted to cover here is the interplay between Data Strategy and some of the other areas I have just covered. It might be thought that Data Strategy is both carved on tablets of stone [11] and stands in splendid and theoretical isolation, but this should not ever be the case. The development of a Data Strategy should of course be informed by a situational analysis and a vision of “what good looks like” for an organisation. However, both of these things can be shaped by early tactical work. Taking cues from initial tactical work should lead to a more pragmatic strategy, more aligned to business realities.

Work in each of the three areas itemised above can play an important role in shaping a Data Strategy and – as the Data Strategy matures – it can obviously guide interim work as well. This should be an iterative process with lots of feedback.

Closing Thoughts

I have captured the essence of these thoughts in the diagram above. The important things to take away are that in order to generate momentum, you need to start to do some stuff; to extend the physical metaphor, you have to start pushing. However, momentum is a vector quantity (it has a direction as well as a magnitude [12]) and building momentum is not a lot of use unless it is in the general direction in which you want to move; so push with some care and judgement. It is also useful to realise that – so long as your broad direction is OK – you can make refinements to your direction as you pick up speed.

The above thoughts are based on my experience in a range of organisations and I am confident that they can be applied anywhere, making allowance for local cultures of course. Once momentum is established, it still needs to be maintained (or indeed increased), but I find that getting the ball moving in the first place often presents the greatest challenge. My hope is that the framework I present here can help data practitioners to get over this initial hurdle and begin to really make a difference in their organisations.

Notes

 [1] Way back in 2009, I wrote about the benefits of leveraging data to provide enhanced information. The article in question was tited Measuring the benefits of Business Intelligence. Everything I mention remains valid today in 2018. [2] See also: [3] If I many be allowed to blow my own trumpet for a moment, I have developed data / information strategies for eight organisations, turned seven of these into a costed / planned programme and executed at least the first few phases of six of these. I have always found being a consistent presence through these phases has been beneficial to the organisations I was helping, as well as helping to reduce duplication of work. [4] See my, now rather venerable, trilogy about cultural change in data / information programmes: together with the rather more recent: [5] See for example: [6] Dictionary.com offers a nice explanation of this phrase.. [7] I was raised a Catholic, but have been areligious for many years. [8] Much like $x^2+x+1=0$. For anyone interested, the two roots of this polynomial are clearly: $-\dfrac{1}{2}+\dfrac{\sqrt{3}}{2}\hspace{1mm}i\hspace{5mm}\text{and}\hspace{5mm}-\dfrac{1}{2}-\dfrac{\sqrt{3}}{2}\hspace{1mm}i$ neither of which is Real. [9] See my rather venerable article, Using BI to drive improvements in data quality, for a fuller treatment of this area. [10] For starters see: and also the Data Strategy segment of The Anatomy of a Data Function – Part I. [11] [12] See Glimpses of Symmetry, Chapter 15 – It’s Space Jim….

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary, The Anatomy of a Data Function and A Brief History of Databases

# Did GDPR highlight the robustness of your Data Architecture, the strength of your Data Governance and the fitness of your Data Strategy?

So GDPR Day is upon us – the sun still came up and the Earth is still spinning (these facts may be related of course). I hope that most GDPR teams and the Executives who have relied upon their work were able to go to bed last night secure in the knowledge that a good job had been done and that their organisations and customers were protected. Undoubtedly, in coming days, there will be some stories of breaches of the regulations, maybe some will be high-profile and the fines salutary, but it seems that most people have got over the line, albeit often by Herculean efforts and sometimes by the skins of their teeth.

Does it have to be like this?

A well-thought-out Data Architecture embodying a business-focussed Data Strategy and intertwined with the right Data Governance, should combine to make responding to things like GDPR relatively straightforward. Were they in your organisation?

If instead GDPR compliance was achieved in spite of your Data Architectures, Governance and Strategies, then I suspect you are in the majority. Indeed years of essentially narrow focus on GDPR will have consumed resources that might otherwise have gone towards embedding the control and leverage of data into the organisation’s DNA.

Maybe now is a time for reflection. Will your Data Strategy, Data Governance and Data Architecture help you to comply with the next set of data-related regulations (and it is inevitable that there will be more), or will they hinder you, as will have been the case for many with GDPR?

If you feel that the answer to this question is that there are significant problems with how your organisation approaches data, then maybe now is the time to grasp the nettle. Having helped many companies to both develop and execute successful Data Strategies, you could start by reading my trilogy on creating an Information / Data Strategy:

I’m also more than happy to discuss your data problems and opportunities either formally or informally, so feel free to get in touch.

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary, The Anatomy of a Data Function and A Brief History of Databases

# An in-depth interview with experienced Chief Data Officer Roberto Maranca

Part of the In-depth series of interviews

 Today’s interview is with Roberto Maranca. Roberto is an experienced and accomplished Chief Data Officer, having held that role in GE Capital and Lloyds Banking Group. Roberto and I are both founder members of the IRM(UK) Chief Data Officer Executive Forum and I am delighted to be able to share the benefit of his insights with readers.
 Can you perhaps highlight a single piece of work that was important to you, added a lot of value to the organisation, or which you were very proud of for some other reason? I always had a thing about building things to last, so I have always tried to achieve a sustainable solution that doesn’t fall apart after a few months (in Six Sigma terms you will call it “minimising the long term sigma shift”, but we will talk about it another time). So trying to have change process to be mindful of “Data” has been my quest since day one, in the job of CDO. For this reason, my most important piece of work was probably the the creation of the first link between the PMO process in GEC and the Data Lineage and Quality Assurance framework, I had to insist quite a bit to introduce this, design it, test it and run it. Now of course, after the completion of the GEC sale, it has gone lost “like tears in the rain”, to cite one of the best movies ever [1].
 What was your motivation to take on Chief Data Officer roles and what do you feel that you bring to the CDO role? I touched on some reasons in my introductory comments. I believe there is a serendipitous combination of acquired skills that allows me to see things in a different way. I spent most of my working life in IT, but I have a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering and a diploma in what we in Italy call “Classical Studies”, basically I have A levels in Latin, Greek, Philosophy, History. So for example, together with my pilot’s licence achieved over weekends, I have attended a drama evening school for a year (of course in my bachelor days). Jokes apart, the “art” of being a CDO requires a very rich and versatile background because it is so pioneering, ergo if I can draw from my study of flow dynamics to come up with a different approach to lineage, or use philosophy to embed a stronger data driven culture, I feel it is a marked plus.
 We have spoken about the CDO role being one whose responsibilities and main areas of focus are still sometimes unclear. I have written about this recently [2]. How do you think the CDO role is changing in organisations and what changes need to happen? I mentioned the role being pioneering: compared to more established roles, CFO, COO and, even, CIO, the CDO is suffering from ambiguity, differing opinions and lack of clear career path. All of us in this space have to deal with something like inserting a complete new organ in a body that has got very strong immunological response, so although the whole body is dying for the function that the new organ provides (and with the new breed of regulation about, dying for lack of good and reliable data is not an exaggeration), there is a pernickety work of linking up blood vessels and adjusting every part of the organisation so that the change is harmonious, productive and lasting. But every company starts from a different level of maturity and a different status quo, so it is left to the CDO to come up with a modus operandi that would work and bring that specific environment to a recognisable standard.
 The Chief Data Officer has been described as having “the toughest job in the executive C-suite within many organizations” [3]. Do you agree and – if so – what are the major challenges? I agree and it simply demonstrated: pick any Company’s Annual Report, do a word search for “data quality”, “data management“, “data science” or anything else relevant to our profession, you are not going to find many. IT has been around for a while more and yet technology is barely starting now to appear in the firm’s “manifesto”, mostly for things that are a risk, like cyber security. Thus the assumption is, if it is not seen as a differentiator to communicate to the shareholders and the wider world, why should it be of interest for the Board? It is not anyone’s fault and my gut feeling is that GDPR (or perhaps Cambridge Analytica) is going to change this, but we probably need another generational turnover to have CDOs “safely” sitting in executive groups. In the meantime, there is a lot we can do, maybe sitting immediately behind someone who is sitting in that crucial room.
 We both believe that cultural change has a central role in the data arena, can you share some thoughts about why this is important? Data can’t be like a fad diet, it can’t be a program you start and finish. Companies have to understand that you have to set yourself on a path of “permanent augmentation”. The only way to do this is to change for good the attitude of the entire company towards data. Maybe starting from the first ambiguity, data is not the bits and bytes coming out of a computer screen, but it is rather the set of concepts and nouns we use in our businesses to operate, make products, serve our customers. If you flatten your understanding of data to its physical representation, you will never solve the tough enterprise problems, henceforth if it is not a problem of centralisation of data, but it is principally a problem of centralisation of knowledge and standardisation of behaviours, it is something inherently close to people and the common set of things in a company that we can call “culture”.
 Accepting the importance of driving a cultural shift, what practical steps can you take to set about making this happen? In my keynotes, I often quote the Swiss philosopher (don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!) Henry Amiel: Pure truth cannot be assimilated by the crowd: it must be communicated by contagion. This is especially the case when you are confronted with large numbers of colleagues and small data teams. Creating a simple mantra that can be inoculated in many part of the organisation helps to create a more receptive environment. So CDOs should first be keen marketeers, able to create a simple brand and pursuing relentlessly a “propaganda” campaign. Secondly, if you want to bring change, you should focus where the change happens and make sure that wherever the fabric of the company changes, i.e. big programmes or transformations, data is top priority.
 What are the potential pitfalls that you think people need to be aware of when embarking on a data-centric cultural transformation programme? First is definitely failing to manage your own expectations on speed and acceptance; it takes time and patience. Long-established organisations cannot leap into a brighter future just because an enlightened CDO shows them how. Second, and sort of related, it is a problem thinking that things can happen by management edicts and CDO policy compliance, there is a lot niftier psychology and sociology to weave into this.
 A two-part question. What do you see as the role of Data Governance in the type of cultural change you are recommending? Also, do you think that the nature of Data Governance has either changed or possibly needs to change in order to be more effective? The CDO’s arrival at a discussion table is very often followed by statements like “…but we haven’t got resources for the Governance” or “We would like to, but Data Governance is such an aggro”. My simple definition for Data Governance is a process that allows Approved Data Consumers to obtain data that satisfies their consumption requirements, in accordance with Company’s approved standards of traceability, meaning, integrity and quality. Under this definition there is no implied intention of subjecting colleagues to gruelling bureaucratic processes, the issue is the status quo. Today, in the majority of firms, without a cumbersome process of checks and balances, it is almost impossible to fulfil such definition. The best Data Governance is the one you don’t see, it is the one you experience when you to get the data you need for your job without asking, this is the true essence of Data Democratisation, but few appreciate that this is achieved with a very strict and controlled in-line Data Governance framework sitting on three solid bastions of Metadata, User Access Controls and Data Classification.
 Can you comment on the relationship between the control of data and its exploitation; between Analytics and Governance if you will?Do these areas need to both be part of the CDO’s remit? Oh… this is about the tale of the two tribes isn’t it? The Governors vs. the Experimenters, the dull CDOs vs the funky CAOs. Of course they are the yin and the yang of Data, you can’t have proper insight delivered to your customer or management if you have a proper Data Governance process, or should we call it “Data Enablement” process from the previous answer. I do believe that the next incarnation of the CDO is more a “Head of Data”, who has got three main pillars underneath, one is the previous CDOs all about governance, control and direction, the second is your R&D of data, but the third one that getting amassed and so far forgotten is the Operational side, the Head of Data should have business operational ownership of the critical Data Assets of the Company.
 The cultural aspects segues into thinking about people. How important is managing the people dimension to a CDO’s success? Immensely. Ours is a pastoral job, we need to walk around, interact on internal social media, animate communities, know almost everyone and be known by everyone. People are very anxious about what we do, because all the wonderful things we are trying to achieve, they believe, will generate “productivity” and that in layman’s terms mean layoffs. We can however shift that anxiety to curiosity, reaching out, spreading the above-mentioned mantra but also rethinking completely training and reskilling, and subsequently that curiosity should transform in engagement which will deliver sustainable cultural change.
 I have heard you speak about “intelligent data management” can you tell me some more about what you mean by this? Does this relate to automation at all? My thesis at Uni in 1993 was using AI algorithms and we all have been playing with MDM, DQM, RDM, Metadata for ages, but it doesn’t feel we cracked yet a Science of Data (NB this is different Data Science!) that could show us how to resolve our problems of managing data with 21st century techniques. I think our evolutionary path should move us from “last month you had 30k wrong postcodes in your database” to “next month we are predicting 20% fewer wrong address complaints”, in doing so there is an absolute need to move from fragmented knowledge around data to centralised harnessing of the data ecosystem, and that can only be achieved tuning in on the V.O.M. (Voice of the Machines), listening, deriving insight on how that ecosystem is changing, simulating response to external or internal factors and designing changes with data by design (or even better with everything by design). I yet have to see automated tools that do all of that without requiring man years to decide what is what, but one can only stay hopeful.
 Finally, how do you see the CDO role changing in coming years? To the ones that think we are a transient role, I respond that Compliance should be everyone’s business, and yet we have Compliance Officers. I think that overtime the Pioneers will give way to the Strategists, who will oversee the making of “Data Products” that best suit the Business Strategist, and maybe one day being CEO will be the epitome of our career ladders one day, but I am not rushing to it, I love too much having some spare time to spend with my family and sailing.
 Roberto, it is always a pleasure to speak. Thank you for sharing your ideas with us today.

Roberto Maranca can be reached at r.maranca@outlook.com and has social media presence on LinkedIn and Twitter (@RobertoMaranca).

Disclosure: At the time of publication, neither peterjamesthomas.com Ltd. nor any of its Directors had any shared commercial interests with Roberto Maranca.

 If you are a Chief Data Officer, a Chief Analytics Officer, a Director of Data, or hold some other “Top Data Job” and would like to share your thoughts with the readers of this site in an interview like this one, please get in contact.

Notes

 [1] [2] The CDO – A Dilemma or The Next Big Thing? [3] Randy Bean of New Vantage Partners quoted in The CDO – A Dilemma or The Next Big Thing?

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary, The Anatomy of a Data Function and A Brief History of Databases

# Link directly to entries in the Data and Analytics Dictionary

The peterjamesthomas.com Data and Analytics Dictionary has always had internal tags (anchors for those old enough to recall their HTML) which allowed me, as its author, to link to individual entries from other web-pages I write. An example of the use of these is my article, A Brief History of Databases.

I have now made these tags public. Each entry in the Dictionary is followed by the full tag address in a box. This is accompanied by a link icon as follows:

Clicking on the link icon will copy the tag address to your clipboard. Alternatively the tag URL may just be copied from the box containing it directly. You can then use this address in your own article to link back to the D&AD entry.

As with the vast majority of my work, the contents of the Data and Analytics Dictionary is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence. This means you can include my text or images in your own web-pages, presentations, Word documents etc. You can even modify my work, so long as you point out that you have done this.

If you would like to link back to the Data and Analytics Dictionary to provide definitions of terms that you are using, this should now be very easy. For example:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing Big Data elit. Duis tempus nisi sit amet libero vehicula Data Lake, sed tempor leo consectetur. Pellentesque suscipit sed felisData Governance ac mattis. Fusce mattis luctus posuere. Duis a Spark mattis velit. In scelerisque massa ac turpis viverra, acLogistic Regression pretium neque condimentum.

Equally, I’d be delighted if you wanted to include part of all of the text of an entry in the Data and Analytics Dictionary in your own work, commercial or personal; a link back using this new functionality would be very much appreciated.

I hope that this new functionality will be useful. An update to the Dictionary’s contents will be published in the next couple of months.

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary, The Anatomy of a Data Function and A Brief History of Databases

# The CDO – A Dilemma or The Next Big Thing?

It wasn’t so long ago that I last wrote about Forbes’s perspective on the data arena [1]. In this piece, I am going to compare and contrast two more recent Forbes articles. The first is 3 Reasons Why The Chief Data Officer Will Become The Next Big Thing by Lauren deLisa Coleman (@ultra_Lauren). The second is The Chief Data Officer Dilemma by Randy Bean (@RandyBeanNVP) [2].

While the contents of the two articles differ substantially – the first is positive about the future of the role, the second highlights some of its current challenges – there are interesting points made in each of them. In the midst of confusion about what a Chief Data Officer (CDO) is and what they do, it is perhaps not surprising that fundamentally different takes on the area can both contain seeds of truth.

In the first piece, deLisa Coleman refers to the twin drivers of meeting increasingly stringent regulatory demands [3] and leveraging data to drive enhanced business outcomes; noting that:

Expertise and full dedication is needed particularly since data is threaded into nearly all facets of today’s businesses [4].

She states that appointing a CDO is the canonical response of Executive teams, while noting that there is not full consensus on all facets of this role. In covering the title’s “three reasons” why organisations need CDOs, deLisa Coleman references a survey by Infogix [5]. This highlights the increasing importance of each of the following areas: Metadata, Data Governance and the Internet of Things.

Expanding on these themes, deLisa Coleman adds:

Those who seize success within these new parameters will be companies that not only adapt most quickly but those that can also best leverage their company’s data in a strategic manner in innovative ways while continuing to gathering massive amounts under flawless methods of protection.

So far, so upbeat. To introduce a note of caution, I am aware that, in the last few years – and no doubt in part driven by articles in Forbes, Harvard Business Review and their ilk – most companies have set forth a vision for becoming a “data-driven organisation” [6]. However, the number that have actually achieved this objective – or even taken significant steps towards it – is of course much smaller. The central reason for this is that it is not easy to become a “data-driven organisation”. As with most difficult things, reaching this goal requires hard-work, focus, perseverance and, it has to be said, innate aptitude. Some experience of what is involved is of course also invaluable and, even in 2018, this is a rare commodity.

A sub-issue within this over-arching problem is miracle-worker syndrome; we’ll hire a great CDO and then we don’t need to worry about data any more [7]. Of course becoming a “data-driven organisation” requires the whole organisation to change. A good CDO will articulate the need for change, generate enthusiasm for moving forward and and coordinate the necessary metamorphosis. What they cannot do however is enact such a fundamental change without the active commitment of all tiers of the organisation.

Of course this is where the second article becomes pertinent. Bean starts by noting the increasing prevalence of the CDO. He cites an annual study by his consultancy [8] which surveys Fortune 1000 companies. In 2012, this found that only 12% of the companies surveyed had appointed a CDO. By 2018, the figure has risen to over 63%, a notable trend [9].

However, he goes on to say that:

In spite of the common recognition of the need for a Chief Data Officer, there appears to be a profound lack of consensus on the nature of the role and responsibilities, mandate, and background that qualifies an executive to operate as a successful CDO. Further, because few organizations — 13.5% — have assigned revenue responsibility to their Chief Data Officers, for most firms the CDO role functions primarily as an influencer, not a revenue generator.

This divergence of opinion on CDO responsibilities, mandate, and importance of the role underscores why the Chief Data Officer may be the toughest job in the executive c-suite within many organizations, and why the position has become a hot seat with high turnover in a number of firms.

In my experience, while deLisa Coleman’s sunnier interpretation of the CDO environment both holds some truth and points to the future, Bean’s more gritty perspective is closer to the conditions currently experienced by many CDOs. This is reinforced by a later passage:

While 39.4% of survey respondents identify the Chief Data Officer as the executive with primary responsibility for data strategy and results within their firm, a majority of survey respondents – 60.6% — identify other C-Executives as the point person, or claim no single point of accountability. This is remarkable and highly significant, for it highlights the challenges that CDO’s face within many organizations.

Bean explains that some of this is natural, making a similar point to the one I advance above: the journey towards being “data-driven” is not a simple one and parts of organisations may both not want to take the trip and even dissuade colleagues from doing so. Passive or active resistance are things that all major transformations need to deal with. He adds that lack of clarity about the CDO role, especially around the involved / accountable question as it relates to strategy, planning and execution is a complicating factor.

Some particularly noteworthy points arose when the survey asked about the background and skills of a CDO. Findings included:

While 34% of executives believe the ideal CDO should be an external change agent (outsider) who brings fresh perspectives, an almost equivalent 32.1% of executives believe the ideal CDO should be an internal company veteran (insider) who understands the culture and history of the firm and knows how to get things done within that organization.

22.6% of executives […] indicated that the CDO must be either a data scientist or a technologist who is highly conversant with data. An additional 11.3% responded that a successful CDO must be a line-of-business executive who has been accountable for financial results.

The above may begin to sound somewhat familiar to some readers. It perhaps brings to mind the following figure [10]:

As I pointed out last year in A truth universally acknowledged… organisations sometimes take a kitchen sink approach to experience and expertise, a lengthy list of requirements that will never been found in one person. From the above survey, it seems that this approach probably reflects the thinking of different executives.

I endorse one of Bean’s final points:

The lack of consensus on the Chief Data Officer role aptly mirrors the diversity of opinion on the value and importance of data as an enterprise asset and how it should be managed.

Back in my more technologically flavoured youth, I used to say that organisations get the IT that they deserve. The survey findings suggest that the same aphorism can be applied to both CDOs and the data landscapes that they are meant to oversee.

So two contrasting pieces from the same site. The first paints what I believe is an accurate picture of the importance of the CDO role in fulfilling corporate objectives. The second highlights some of the challenges with the CDO role delivering on its promise. Each perspective is valid. I would recommend readers take a look at both articles and then blend some of the insights with their own opinions and ideas.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Lauren deLisa Coleman and Randy Bean for both reviewing this article and allowing me to quote their work. Their openness and helpfulness are very much appreciated.

Notes

 [1] Draining the Swamp. [2] Text is reproduced with the kind permission of the authors. Forbes has a limited free access policy for non-subscribers, this means that the number of articles you can view is restricted. [3] To which I would add both customer and business partner expectations about how their data is treated and used by organisations. [4] Echoing points from my two 2015 articles: 5 Themes from a Chief Data Officer Forum and 5 More Themes from a Chief Data Officer Forum, specifically: It’s gratifying to make predictions that end up coming to be. [5] Infogix Identifies the Top Game Changing Data Trends for 2018. [6] It would be much easier to list those who do not share this aspiration. [7] Having been described as “the Messiah” in more than one organisation, I can empathise with the problems that this causes. Perhaps Moses – a normal man – leading his people out of the data dessert is a more apt Biblical metaphor, should you care for such things. [8] New Vantage Partners. [9] These are clearly figures for US companies and it is generally acknowledged that the US approach to data is more mature than elsewhere. In Europe, it may be that GDPR (plus, in my native UK, the dark clouds of Brexit) has tipped the compliance / leverage balance too much towards data introspection and away from revenue-generating data insights. [10] This first version of this image appeared in 2016’s The Chief Data Officer “Sweet Spot”, with the latest version being published in 2017’s A Sweeter Spot for the CDO?.

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary

# Sic Transit Gloria Magnorum Datorum

It happens to all of us eventually I suppose.

Just the other day, I heard someone referring to “traditional Big Data”. Since when did Big Data become “traditional”, I didn’t get the e-mail? Of course, in the technology field, the epithet “traditional” is code for “broken”, “no longer of any use” and – most damningly of all – “deeply uncool”. The term is widely used, whether – with this connotation – it is either helpful or accurate is perhaps a matter for debate. This usage makes me recall the rather silly debate about Analytics versus “traditional” Business Intelligence that occurred around 2009 [1].

By way of context, the person talking about “traditional Big Data” was referring to the difference between some of the original denizens of the Hadoop ecosystem and more recent offerings like Databricks or Beam. They also had in mind the various quasi-proprietary flavours of Big Data and/or Big Data plug-ins offered by (that word again) “traditional” vendors. In this sense, the usage is probably appropriate, albeit somewhat jarring. In the more pejorative sense I refer to above, “traditional” is somewhat misleading when applied to either Big Data or – in the author’s opinion – several of its precursors.

While we inhabit a world which places a premium on innovation, favouring the new and the shiny [2], traditional methods have much to offer. If something – a technique or technology – has achieved “traditional” status, it means that it has become part of how things are done. While shaking up the status quo can be beneficial, “traditional” approaches have the not insignificant benefit of having been tried and tested. “Traditional” data tools are ones that have survived some time and are still used. While not guaranteeing success, it should at least be possible to be successful with such tools because other people have done this before.

Maybe, several years after its move into the mainstream, Big Data has become “traditional”. However I would take this as meaning “fit for purpose”, “useful” and “still pretty cool”. Then I think the same about many of the technologies that were described as “traditional” in contrast to Big Data. As ever, the main things that lead to either success or failure in data-centric work [3] have very little to do with technology, be that traditional or à la mode.

Notes

 [1] If you have the stomach for it, see Business Analytics vs Business Intelligence and succeeding articles. [2] See also 2009’s The latest and greatest versus the valuable. [3] I itemise a few of these in last year’s 20 Risks that Beset Data Programmes.

From: peterjamesthomas.com, home of The Data and Analytics Dictionary