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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

A strategist and change leader, Yasmeen Ahmad has worked on executive teams with focus on defining and leading strategy, driving priorities with a sense of urgency and leading cross-functional initiatives. Yasmeen has held roles including VP of Enterprise Analytics, Head of Global Communications and Chief of Staff to a CEO. Her creativity, ideas and execution have supported organizations to move quickly to deliver on key transformation objectives, including pivots to analytics, as-a-service, subscription and cloud.

Yasmeen is a strong communicator, well versed in connecting business and technical disciplines. Her keynote presentations, articles and published materials are demonstration of her thought leadership and ability to simplify complex concepts. She is regarded as an expert in the enterprise data and analytics domain, having successfully consulted to deliver multi-million dollars of value within Fortune 500 companies. Yasmeen leads with a passion for being customer obsessed and outcome focused. A strong people leader, Yasmeen has driven change management and people initiatives to foster a culture of growth and continuous improvement. Yasmeen is a strong proponent for transparency, diversity, inclusiveness and authentic leadership.

Yasmeen has a PhD in Life Sciences from the Wellcome Trust Centre in Gene Regulation and Expression and has studied on executive programs related to Disruptive Innovative and Strategic IQ at Harvard Business School. Yasmeen has been named as one of the top 50 data leaders and influencers by Information Age and Data Scientist of the Year by Computing magazine, as well as being nominated as a Finalist for Innovator of the Year in the Women in IT Awards. Finally, Yasmeen is part of the exclusive Executive Development Program at Teradata.

View all posts by Yasmeen Ahmad

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