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2/17/2017
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Lisa Morgan
Lisa Morgan
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What A Chief Analytics Officer Really Does

There has been plenty of talk about the need for a chief analytics officer or chief data officer. But do you ever wonder what they do for a living?

As analytics continues to spread out across an organization, someone needs to orchestrate it all. The "best" person for the job is likely a chief analytics officer (CAO) who understands the business, understands analytics, and can help align the two.

 The CAO role is a relatively new C-suite position, as is the chief data officer or CDO. Most organizations don't have both and when they don't, the titles tend to be used interchangeably. The general distinction is that the CAO focuses more on analytics and its business impact while the CDO is in charge of data management and data governance.

Image: Geralt/Pixabay
Image: Geralt/Pixabay

"The new roles are really designed to expand the use of data and expand the questions that data is used to answer," said Jennifer Belissent, principal analyst at Forrester. "It's changing the nature of data and analytics use in the organization, leveraging the new tools and techniques available, and creating a culture around the use of data in an organization."

Someone in your organization may already have some or all of a CAO's responsibilities and may be succeeding in the position without the title, which is fine. However, in some organizations a C-suite title and capability can help underscore the importance of the role and the organization's shift toward more strategic data usage.

"The CAO needs to be able to evangelize the use of data, demonstrate the value of data, and deliver outcomes," said Belissent. "It's a role around cultural change, change management, and evangelism."

If you're planning to appoint a CAO, make sure that your organization is really ready for one because the role can fail if it is prevented from making the kinds of change the organization needs. A successful CAO needs the support of senior management, as well as the authority, responsibility, budget, and people skills necessary to affect change.

One mistake organizations make when hiring a CAO is placing too much emphasis on technology and not enough emphasis on business acumen and people skills.

The making of a CAO

When professional services company EY revisited its global strategy a few years ago, it was clear to its leadership that data and analytics were of growing importance to both its core business and the new services it would provide to clients.

Rather than hiring someone from the outside, EY chose its chief strategy officer, Chris Mazzei, for the role. His charter as CAO was to develop an analytics capability across EY's four business units and the four global regions in which it operates.

[Want to learn more about CAOs and CDOs, read 12 Ways to Connect Data Analytics to Business Outcomes.]

Part of his responsibility was shaping the strategy and making sure each of the businesses had a plan they were executing against. He also helped expand the breadth and depth of EY's analytical capabilities, which included acquiring 30 companies in four years.  

The acquisitions coupled with EY's matrixed organizational structure meant lots of analytics tools, lots of redundancies, and a patchwork of other technology capabilities that were eventually rationalized and made available as a service. Meanwhile, the Global Analytics Center of Excellence Mazzei leads was also building reusable software assets that could be used for analytics across the business and for client engagements.

Mazzei and his team also have been responsible for defining an analytics competency profile for practitioners and providing structured training that maps to it. Not surprisingly, his team also works in a consultative capacity with account teams to help enable clients' analytical capabilities.

Chris Mazzei, EY
Chris Mazzei, EY

"The question is, 'What is the strategy and how does analytics fit into it?' It sounds obvious, but few organizations have a clear strategy where analytics is really connected into it across the enterprise and at a business level," said Mazzei. "You really need a deep understanding of how the business creates value, how the market is evolving, what the sources of competitive differentiation are and how those could evolve. Where you point analytics is fundamentally predicated on having those views."

Mazzei had the advantage of working for EY for more than a decade and leading the strategy function before becoming the CAO. Unlike a newly-hired CAO, he already had relationships with the people at EY with whom he'd be interfacing.

"Succeeding in this role takes building really trusted relationships in a lot of different parts of the organization, and often at very senior levels," said Mazzei. "One reason we've seen CAOs fail is either because they didn't have the skills to build those relationships or didn't invest enough time on it during their tenure."

Does your company have a CAO?

If you have a CAO, CDO, or both, we'd love to hear what they're doing and how you think they're doing in the comments section. If you are one, please tell us about your journey.

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include ... View Full Bio
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