Quick Wins for Chief Data Officers (CDOs)

This week I had the privilege of speaking at the Chief Data Office (CDO) Summit in Toronto. While Canopy Labs work aggressively with companies across all industries and revenue sizes, the CDO role is still relatively new to most organizations. In many cases, companies are still determining what a CDO should actually do, and how they should function within the broader scope of the organization.

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Given the multitude of challenges that any executive experiences in a new role, we thought it would be helpful to summarize some of the ways we see best-in-class CDOs achieving their goals and growing their influence within the companies they are in. The strategies below are meant to be achievable within the proverbial “first 100 days” of the role, and will help new CDOs win the hearts, minds, and P&L priorities of the business.

Strategy #1: Develop clear ROI metrics for the data within your business

One of the biggest challenges for CDOs today is discerning the value of their internal business data. Centralizing and organizing data might yield up-sell, cross-sell, and efficiency opportunities, but it can often be challenging to see how exactly this happens. There are two reasons for this: firstly, many CDOs have not owned P&L (“profit and loss”) responsibilities within their business in the psat, so they typically haven’t made business cases. Secondly, business units outside of his or her purview often view the CDO role not as a strong business partner, but as just another “IT division”.

As a result, a new CDO should work diligently to understand how the company’s business units measure their return on investment (ROI), and to see how the data under the CDO can be utilized to further improve those metrics for business units.

Two ideas to achieve success
Set up individual meetings with every major P&L-owning business unit within your organization Understand what are the one or two main performance metrics within each business unit



Strategy #2: Develop a framework for measuring the success of data centralization or analytics

Companies adopting data-centric approaches to business often run numerous experiments and A/B tests to determine which modeling approaches, data sets, and strategies actually generate increased performance. A big challenge for many companies is actually tracking experiments and understanding what “success” actually means.

Best-in-class companies have very clear processes for running experiments, as well as quantitative, statistically sound frameworks for deciding when experiments are successful (for example, see Airbnb). New CDOs should develop similar frameworks to track as many experiments as possible, and clarify when they succeed or when they fail.

Two ideas to achieve success
Develop a decision-making process for determining which experiments should be run. This could be through a company-wide committee, or through experiments run with each business unit Brainstorm ways in which the business unit can use data to drive those metrics. Come up with a clear timeline for at least one of these projects


Strategy #3: Promote your role as a “Chief Data Librarian”

Our experiences have shown that the impetus for appointing a CDO stems from a need to manage the ever-growing amount of data pervading an organization. By centralizing these data sets and putting all external data sets in one location, a company can theoretically decrease costs and improve its ability to negotiate with external data providers by buying data in bulk. In essence, the CDO becomes a “Chief Data Librarian” – tracking who is using which data sets, how they’re being used, and ensuring the quality of those data sets is high.

Centralizing this function is a great way to decrease corporate data costs and centralize your role as CDO within an organization.

Two ideas to achieve success
Create a list of data sets within your company and determine how they can be centralized or used from central data warehouse, particularly if you are buying them from external parties Create a set of metrics to track usage of the data, as well as the quality of the data itself


Strategy #4: Build a culture of data literacy across the organization

A CDO can only be successful if his or her business is truly willing to use data to drive performance. The sooner a CDO builds a culture of analytics and data-driven decision, the sooner they will be seen as successful in their role. This requires a change of values and ideas across the company – not only do senior executives need to be on board with the decision, but front-line staff need to be comfortable with data collection, usage, and analysis as well.

To build such a culture, consider running events like data visualization hackathons or “lunch and learns” where people can work on building their own visualizations (even simple charts in Excel will suffice). Make sure the results and end products are shared with the rest of the organization to really drive home the point that data analytics is here to stay. Consider anonymizing a set of data and making it available to the entire company so people can look for trends and even compete for prizes.

Two ideas to achieve success
Organize a company-wide hackathon around data or data visualization Organize monthly seminars where people can learn about data-driven decision making and share case studies


Strategy #5: Become an evangelist outside of your organization

The CDO role is in most cases a new one, and many companies are still in the process of defining what it means to have a CDO. This can lead to confused priorities and agendas, which often boil down to stress for the new CDO. Remember that you are not alone, and that many new executives face such challenges. Ensure that you integrate yourself into the broader community within this space and share your findings and successes. The world needs more “CDO evangelists” to share their experiences and eventually standardize the knowledge around frameworks, processes, and best practices.

Two ideas to achieve success
Attend conferences and speak about your successful strategies as a CDO Share your frameworks, case studies, and anecdotes through trade magazines, blogs, or other public sources


So much remains to be discovered around the “Chief Data Officer” role, and to define what success means for those who find themselves in this position. At the same time, as more businesses adopt data-enabled strategies and processes, this position may well be one of the most exciting jobs to have within any organization – and presents major opportunities for executives everywhere.

Written by Wojciech Gryc

Wojciech Gryc is the CEO of Canopy Labs. Prior to Canopy Labs, Wojciech was a consultant with McKinsey & Co. and a researcher at IBM Research. Wojciech is a Rhodes Scholar and Loran Scholar.

1 Comment

  1. Greg

    I’d also suggest connecting directly with R&D. CDOs are inherently technical and innovation-focused people… If you have an R&D department, connect with it so that you can constantly take & use new technologies for your company. Learn, learn, disseminate!

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