CDO: Your Navigator for the Digital Transformation Journey

Categories: General

While my motorbike is hibernating, I re-watched Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round as the next best thing to getting to ride myself. The mini-series documents the 19,000 mile journey both actors undertook from start to finish, riding from London to New York. Even if biking is not your thing, the stunning landscapes they pass along the way are well worth the viewing.

As I watched the trip unfold, it struck me how many parallels there are with the journey businesses are planning or already undertaking in pursuit of becoming data-driven organisations. For them, the name of the trip is ‘digital transformation’ and they need just as much preparation and guidance as if they would plan their own ‘round the world trip. Yet who can business turn to to do just that – to guide them, to navigate them through the pitfalls and obstacles?

What’s Changing?

Digital transformation is a business imperative and firmly on the agenda of the majority of CEOs[1]. It is clear that data plays a crucial role in executing this metamorphosis, with the insight enabling innovation and differentiation in an ever more competitive world. The prize for data-driven organisations is better decisions that directly impact the bottom line: organizations driven by data-based decision making have 4% higher productivity rates and 6% higher profits[2]. Yet going from the status quo to the promised land takes more than just hoarding any and all data and calling it good. It requires a framework for handling the data and insight: a robust information architecture and strong governance as well as a suitable platform for innovation (with open source, cloud and DevOps becoming a no brainer). With this, business can leverage data (which may or may not be big) for disruptive solutions to CxO pain-points.

The CDO’s Role

Organisations have recognised this is not a trivial task and where previously departments or task forces may have attempted to establish their own digitally transformed islands, successes have been limited[3] exactly because they were departmental and not company-wide initiatives. Management needs to establish top-down mandates and guidance to drive the shift in culture. A C-level person who is responsible for data strategy. A role that includes defining strategic priorities for the company in the area of data systems and opportunities, that identifies new business opportunities pertaining to data, optimizes revenue generation through data, and generally represents data as a strategic business asset at the executive table. The Chief Data Officer is just that person, with savvy businesses recognising and appointing the role more than 15 years ago. They are the guides on the digital transformation road to becoming data-driven.

CDOs straddle business and IT and are firmly linked to other executives related to information, technology and risk. The majority of organisations that do appoint a CDO will also establish their office[4] which is no surprise as the role is so diverse, a true navigator and enabler for the transformation.

A good illustration for these challenges is the fundamental change in how data-driven organisations provide access to data and analysis, often referred to as democratisation. The value is clear: where previously business was dependent on and delayed by IT being able to deliver new data and reports, IT now enables more agile ways of working by making any and all data available for analysis so the business can ask the bigger questions, as and when they think of them. Yet herein there also lies the challenge: can or should any and all data be made available to everyone within the organisation? What about compliance and regulation? CDOs must balance technology and the skills to drive them on one side of the equation with data ownership and security risk on the other. There is a strong link to the chief risk officer to ensure the ethical use of data and analysis. Cracking this nut is the crux to becoming a data-driven organisation; that is the map for the digital transformation journey.

Where is the Impact?

Combined visionary and practitioner, CDOs are crucial guides for organisations on this road. They don’t just solve individual problems or projects; they orchestrate the fundamentally different ways in which organisations capture, retain and exploit data as well as for what purposes they use it. They marry agile approaches to new skills and technology, not least of all a platform to handle data, all data.

If you too want to become a data-driven organisation, your chances of success are greatly enhanced by appointing a CDO and establishing their office. If you are a CDO and don’t yet have a platform that lets the business derive insight from data in a secure and controlled manner, talk to us. We can shorten your long way ‘round!


1. IDC – IDC FutureScape: Worldwide CIO Agenda 2016 Predictions, November 2015
2. MIT Center for Digital Business – Strength in Numbers: How Does Data-Driven Decisionmaking Affect Firm Performance?, April 2011
3. Forbes – Why 84% Of Companies Fail At Digital Transformation, January 2016
4. Gartner – Survey Analysis: Second Gartner CDO Survey — The State of the Office of the CDO, November 2016


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