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What's Top of Mind for Chief Data Officers in 2021?

May 11, 2021 Information Management
By Dom Nicastro

Organizational data leaders have their share of challenges as their businesses navigate out of a challenging last 15 months. Refining data lakes. The urge to move fast. Investing energies into an “offensive” or a “defensive” mindset when it comes to managing organizational data.

Those are some of the challenges discovered in 2020 survey of data leaders by the Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network. Most chief data officers are building and refining data lakes in the cloud to expand their capacity to manage and analyze a growing volume and variety of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data for use cases across their enterprises, according to the report.

Moving Too Fast, Moving Data Efficiently

Today's leaders face a number of challenges with their data. These include some or all of the following:

  • A host of complexities having to do with data quality, security, synchronization, migration, governance and visibility.
  • Getting lost in trying to achieve too much with their data analytics too quickly. There is a need to focus on immediate, achievable uses cases, while also maintaining the flexibility to address future opportunities.
  • Juggling a defensive vs. offensive mindset and leveraging data analytics to reduce risk and drive new revenue opportunities, including monetization of data.
  • Data replication and migration, moving data efficiently and selectively between locations without compromising data integrity.

“Enterprises see the cloud as the best platform for next-generation data modernization and analytics due to its scalability, flexibility and the advanced tools and resources available through leading cloud providers,” Dave Murray, director of thought leadership with the BPI Network, said of the report.

"Many believe the future of these efforts will include multiple clouds to take advantage of the strengths and capabilities of different providers. But all of the executives we talked with agree there are substantial challenges to realizing the full value of these initiatives. Harmonizing and cleansing data based on business needs and advanced data replication and migration solutions that protect data integrity are major requirements,” he said.

Related Article: Chief Data Officer: Blossoming Executive or 'Unsettled Role'?

Lots of Use Cases But Lots of Work

CDOs across a range of industries interviewed by the BPI Network reported their cloud-based data initiatives are driving value for their companies across a wide array of uses cases, including revenue management, customer engagement, cross-selling and personalization, marketing optimization, risk management, financial portfolio analysis, overall decision-making, and others.

One of the chief goals of these modern data initiatives is to increase access to analytics across functions and business units within their companies, the report found.

Of course it’s all easier said than done. A NewVantage survey in February found a lack of clarity on responsibilities, focus, purview and reporting relationships among chief data officers. Less than half of chief data officers — 49.5% — have primary responsibility for data within their firm. Organizations fluctuate between appointing external change agents (44.4%) and company insiders (23.5%), and only a third of companies confirm that the CDO role is successful and established; it is an improvement from 2020.

It doesn’t mean there is not optimism for the role, however.

In spite of the many challenges that leading companies face as they pursue efforts to become more data driven, an overwhelming majority of executives are hopeful for the future:

  • 81.0% expressed optimism about the outlook for data/AI within their firms
  • 91.9% indicated that the pace of investment in data/AI was accelerating
  • 45.4% described their companies as leaders in making progress on data/AI
  • 91.6% reported that even with the COVID-19 epidemic, their companies would be spending the same or more on data and AI initiatives

Related Article: Does Your Company Need a Combined Chief of Data and Analytics?

Implementing Smart Data Controls

What are some of these data leaders focusing on for the remainder of this year? “We have a lot on our plate between getting our data and policies ready for a cloud native world, making sure we comply with growing privacy regulations, protecting our precious data assets, and more,” said Stijn “Stan” Christiaens, founder and chief data citizen at Collibra.

And those are just a few challenges. Christiaens said the most important thing in his role as a data leader in his organization is increasing and maintaining the quality of the company’s data. “Over the past transformative year we’ve spent a lot of resources in getting our business to be digital-first,” he added. ‘That means updated business processes, as well as servicing our customers with data products. We know that data products are garbage in, garbage out, so the outcomes of the product, the user experience, and the smart features all depend on the quality of the data that feeds them.”

His data teams are implementing smart data quality controls at various places: on source systems, all over the data pipelines and on important gates at the lake. “These controls,” Christiaens said, “give us a view and trendline on the quality, and we’ve assigned responsibilities in the business to make sure issues are resolved and the data quality SLAs continue to be met.”

Customer Experience Top of Mind

Alan Jacobson, chief data and analytics officer at Alteryx, said like most data science teams, his company is focused on helping drive business forward by improving customer experiences. Data teams are focused on understanding the customer’s journey and working to help them accelerate their analytics journey.

“This year,” Jacobson said, “we are working on leveraging analytics to determine improved content to serve for training, in-product experience analytics to provide guidance, and lead routing for better pairing of customers with sales and solution engineering resources. We are executing these efforts in Alteryx with strong engagement of our business partners. Separately, the team continues to add data science capabilities into our platform with more advanced data science capabilities in each release.”

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