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4 Ways Chief Data Officers Can Win Stakeholder Support

The role of a chief data officer increasingly makes its way into companies across the globe. But even as their ranks grow, CDOs often face resistance from colleagues who may feel threatened by data results. Here are four tips on how to become a more effective CDO.
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Companies across the globe are recognizing the importance of gleaning data to gain further insight into the organization's own business and improve the way it executes. But Chief Data Officers (CDOs) are likely to face resistance from co-workers who fear the data may not put them in the most favorable light. And the result could potentially affect the ability of the organization to make the most of the data gleaned.

In a report released Thursday, Gartner delved into the topic of "How Chief Data Officers Can Make Progress With Business Stakeholders Who Don't Engage."

"A stakeholder who is not data literate, or who may feel threatened by the data results, may show a range of resistance," Alan Duncan, research director for Gartner's data and analytics group, told InformationWeek.

These business stakeholders can come from a range of areas within and outside of an organization, such as the marketing, finance, and business operations departments, or outside vendors. For example, the marketing department may not be receptive to hearing that the six months they put into their advertising campaign did not produce a fraction of the results they desired based on the data gathered.

"Data chiefs must navigate and get participation. That is why it's a leadership position role, rather than a technology role," Duncan said.

The number of CDOs has soared to approximately 1,400 today from roughly 100 two years ago, he noted. Also, they largely come from a business strategy, business analytics, or some other background with a leadership role, vs. rising up through the ranks of the IT department, he added. Interestingly, only 9% of CDOs have an IT or tech background.

The role of the CDO is to set the agenda of what is to be done with the data that is gleaned and execute on that strategy, Duncan said. He added that a CDO's role is to create a collaborative and connected interpersonal working environment, in which various departments and business stakeholders work together to take advantage of what the data shows.

Duncan noted that businesses that operate in a hierarchical fashion are becoming passé and tend to miss the opportunity to leverage the data that is collected because of the lack of a collaborative environment.

In assessing the challenges that CDOs face in getting various business stakeholders to sign aboard, Duncan noted that broadly speaking, roughly 10% of people within an organization enthusiastically adopt to change, while roughly 75% take a wait and see approach and about another 10% are very resistant to change.

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Garter predicts that through 2019, 90% of large organizations will have hired a CDO. And of this group, only 50% will be hailed a success.

To tip the scales in their favor, CDOs should consider trying these four steps, Duncan advises:

  • Inspire. Present specific innovations that would be beneficial to a stakeholder group. For example, present data to the marketing group that shows the extent of customer satisfaction with its social media efforts. That in turn may prompt the marketing department to changer certain things before the launch of a new product.
  • Show. CDOs may want to team up with various stakeholders to run preliminary tests on prototypes. They would then have before and after data to show to a stakeholder's group to see if they would like to move forward on rolling out the prototype more widely.
  • Build. Create empathetic relationships and understand the motivations and drivers of people, so you can build on those connections.
  • Move on. Be prepared to step back when encountering strong resistance from business stakeholders and say, perhaps now is not the right time to move forward with a new initiative that is based on the data. "You may want to grab them by the lapels and say 'you idiot, can't you see it is in the data?' But you need to be big enough to say 'thank you for your time.' "