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Defining the CDO: Gatekeeper vs Innovator

Defining the CDO: Gatekeeper vs Innovator

In the not-too-distant past, data didn’t even appear on the corporate agenda. However, in recent years, big data has fueled board and executive awareness of the potential for data driven opportunities. This level of awareness has inevitably resulted in greater scrutiny of data quality, accuracy, transparency and privacy and further regulatory and compliance reporting.

However, as Usama Fayyad, the world’s first Chief Data Officer (CDO) at Yahoo determined, “it’s not just about internal decisions from data; it’s what can we provide the customers in terms of data.

Fayyad initially invented the CDO title as a joke with ex-Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, but he makes a valid point with the definition. To be able to transform data acumen into new business opportunities, companies must recognize that the opportunity is not just in accessing data, but in driving significant business value from data, which means truly understanding analytics.

Today it’s clear that data is widely recognized as a tool for competitive advantage. This explosion in big data to fuel business outcomes has meant the establishment and inevitable rise of the role of the CDO.

But what exactly does a CDO do? It’s a common question, and one that many people are curious about.

The most successful CDOs use data and analytics to drive business value. By proliferating analytics throughout a business, a CDO can use insight gained from data to create strategic advantage as well as maintain a competitive edge.

This means striking a balance between Gatekeeper vs Innovator. The role of the CDO requires a good sense of equilibrium between the responsibilities associated with both gatekeeper and innovator. As gatekeeper, the CDO is focused on importance of developing and managing to a data strategy, defining and implementing a data governance process, and ensuring regulatory compliance. Security is a key concern.

However, as Tom Davenport  advises, “defense is a tricky area to inhabit as CDO, because if you succeed and prevent breaches and privacy problems and security issues, no one necessarily gives you any credit for it or even knows if your work was successful. And If you fail, it is obviously very visible and bad for your career.” CDOs need to supplement defense with offense – carrying out analytics, adding value to information and digitalizing data products.

Innovation and business transformation – the onus will be on the Chief Data Officer to define and execute an organizational data vision, and chart a future that drives business value. To do so, the CDO must:

  • Deliver data directly into the hands of business analysts in seconds not minutes, hours not days, and days not weeks or months.
  • Champion iterative learning –test-and-learn; fail fast, learn faster – “quick wins” that build organizational credibility, alignment, and momentum, and demonstrate tangible business value.

As a CDO, you can be defensive about data and meet all the regulations, governance and security requirements – but this delivers no value to the business. It is the creation of data driven insights for the business, monetization of data and analytics that creates value and a truly competitive edge.

Click here for part two of Yasmeen's "Age of the Machine" series.

Portrait of Yasmeen Ahmad

Yasmeen Ahmad

Yasmeen is a strategic business leader in the area of data and analytics consulting, named as one of the top 50 leaders and influencers for driving commercial value from data in 2017 by Information Age.

Leading the Business Analytic Consulting Practice at Teradata, Yasmeen is focused on working with global clients across industries to determine how data driven decisioning can be embedded into strategic initiatives. This includes helping organisations create actionable insights to drive business outcomes that lead to benefits valued in the multi-millions.

Yasmeen is responsible for leading more than 60 consultants across Central Europe, UK&I and Russia in delivering analytic services and solutions for competitive advantage through the use of new or untapped sources of data, alongside advanced analytical and data science techniques.

Yasmeen also holds a PhD in Data Management, Mining and Visualization, carried out at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Gene Regulation & Expression. Her work is published in several international journals and was recognised by the Sir Tim Hunt Prize for Cell Biology. Yasmeen has written regularly for Forbes and is a speaker at international conferences and events.

View all posts by Yasmeen Ahmad

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