Data isn’t just a piece of an organization’s business. It is the business – its fuel, fodder, and force. This past year bore witness to a growing recognition of that fact, which is so important to bringing attention to the need to aggressively define and refine Enterprise Data Strategy. We asked data experts and thought leaders for their perspective on how far Data Strategy has come in the last year, and where it goes next.
Our participants for this article were Jason Fishbain, Chief Data Officer, University of Wisconsin Madison; John Ladley, President, First San Francisco Partners; Thomas C. Redman, the Data Doc and President of Data Quality Solutions; and Jim Tyo, Chief Data Officer of Nationwide.
Their insights should be a help to any organization that is contemplating the steps it has taken so far and the steps it should take in the coming year to align its Data Strategy with its data values.
Our interviewees saw great progress in areas that influence the growth of strong data strategies, but also some misses among the hits.
One trend most respondents applauded was the continuing move by organizations to appoint Chief Data Officers (CDO). The increase in CDO hiring shows that businesses are cognizant of the importance of data assets, Ladley says.
Tyo finds reason to celebrate in predictions that by 2020 nearly 90% of Fortune 500 companies will have a CDO or equivalent:
“The great part about the expansion of the role is the more CDOs we have, the more business models we will have to examine and emulate and the more opportunity for success for the data community,” he says.
As for those who came to the role early on, as did Tyo, they have fought “through the initial risk-heavy onslaught and with the right strategy, could now be in a great position to take advantage of data in a more business-enabling activity,” he says. At Nationwide, every business leader says data is important, which is huge compared to just a few years ago, he says. “Now of course, the intricately complex next question (which is why I love my job) is how do we take advantage to gain a competitive advantage?”
It’s a Data Strategy question that many businesses are asking going into the new year, given the increased focus on the monetization of data that is happening in organizations of all types, including smaller companies, according to Ladley. “Corporate strategy or even vision is now influenced by looking at data as an asset with fungible value,” he says.
On the other hand, not everything is up to speed to fully realize the value of data assets. Ladley points, for example, to a degree of CDO turnover in some organizations that indicates that the role is still being defined, and notes that businesses still are not used to the new role at the leadership table. The “unsettlement” on that front may tie into some cultural issues that still slow down the progress of a data-driven organization that must be propelled by a strong Data Strategy.
Some organizations, Tyo notes, interpret having a data-driven culture as “trying to replace the great legacy and culture that has established brand success.” Not so: It’s the mission and values-driven culture that makes companies great, he says, “and CDOs are merely trying to infuse fact-based, insight-driven methods to enhance how that culture is executed with your clients.”
That said, truly being data-driven will create a transformational change in a company’s business model, Ladley says, affecting management, structure and operations. As Redman puts it, there’s no use in treating the term “data-driven culture” as a sound bite, which is still too often happening.
Looking Ahead to 2017 (and Beyond)
Our respondents weighed in on what will be top-of-mind for business Data Strategy initiatives.
Redman sees work continuing on enabling a true data-driven culture.