CDAOs Drive Change by Blurring Lines, not Drawing Them

The buck stops with the chief data/analytics officer in modern business intelligence.

Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary

July 17, 2018

5 Min Read

Organizations have long considered business intelligence to be an initiative largely driven by and under the jurisdiction of the CIO and the IT department. But times are changing, and to achieve meaningful business outcomes from data and analytics investments, including better collaboration across all functional areas, organizations face the need for new roles accountable for analytics success.

In recent years, a new role has emerged, dedicated to ensuring the organization’s use of data and analytics is both responsible and impactful: the chief data/analytics officer, or CDAO. In organizations that have appointed a CDAO, all decisions related to data and analytics strategy are driven by his or her office. What was historically often a part time job for the CIO, defining and executing on a BI strategy is evolving into a full-time responsibility for the CDAO, who is held accountable at the executive level and often reports directly to the CEO.

Regardless of the actual or dotted lines, the CDAO’s role in the organization isn’t aligned to either IT or the business. It is the CDAO’s responsibility to bring IT and business together and to break down barriers and silos that have hindered the organization's ability to deliver impactful insights to key decision makers and achieve better business outcomes. The CDAO is in a unique position to drive a mindset change and evolve an organization’s thinking about what BI is, how it should be delivered, and who should be delivering it.

Blur the lines — don’t draw them

The CDAO is directly accountable for harnessing the value of the organization’s data and ensuring that insights derived from it are accessible to the right people, at the right time, and in the right context. In some cases, changing who has access to what data within the organization can be a massive paradigm shift, met with uncertainty or resistence.This task is infinitely more difficult when artificial lines are drawn in the sand, which serve as demarcation points between IT and the business. Rather than adhering to the traditional lines between IT and business and letting that drive decisions around who can perform specific tasks -- or where the responsibility for governance falls -- the CDAO has the authority to think more broadly and disrupt the status quo.

Sure, there will always be certain tasks that fall more naturally with either IT or the business (security, as an example for the former). However, there is an opportunity for organizations to create a collaborative environment where analytic tasks are performed by a broad range of user types irrespective of where they physically reside on an org chart.

One approach a CDAO could employ is to redefine the playing field and characterize people based on whether they are focused on the architecture or analytic end of the spectrum, or somewhere in-between. This affords both IT and business users the opportunity to serve in a capacity that is most appropriate for them. Areas like governance or data literacy and education are other places where the CDAO can help facilitate IT delegating responsibilities to business users who are invested, properly trained, and can participate in the success of scaling analytics to transform their everyday work.

Many business users have the skills, expertise and business context to perform many tasks traditionally reserved for IT and vice versa. Bringing these minds together to share responsibilities in some areas of analytics will also bring diversity of thought, creativity, and innovation into these realms.

Business outcomes are the measure of success

Organizations that have appointed a CDAO are likely already thinking about new measures of success for BI and analytics. Past measures of success may have included successfully loading a data warehouse, refreshing reports without failure, distributing reports to thousands of email recipients or meeting the uptime SLA for the BI environment. All of these tasks are IT-centric and are meaningless unless they provide business users and analysts with insights that drive better decision making.

The CDAO should be focused on business outcomes and delivering tangible results through widespread use of data and analytics across all organizational functions. With this focus on outcomes, everything that is created, shared, published and distributed has a purpose. The only measure of success is whether or not business outcomes improved as a result of informed decision making through the use of data and analytics. Past measures of success no longer matter if the main objective of improved business outcomes isn’t achieved. This is one of the main differences that organizations will observe when shifting the responsibility of the BI and analytics program from the CIO to a CDAO.

Invest in the CDAO role to drive digital transformation

By appointing a CDAO, organizations already explicitly recognize data and analytics as a strategic initiative imperative for digital transformation. But that doesn’t guarantee its success.

They must empower this individual with the authority to change existing processes and policies, create new roles and team structures, and rewrite the many rules that have collectively defined the BI rulebook for many years. This means jurisdiction across traditional lines of IT and the business and a strategic seat at the table — both increasingly important with the growth of digital business and analytics.

If the CDAO doesn’t report to the CEO, he or she should at least be strategically aligned, as their influence, authority, and focus will prime the organization for digital transformation. The CDAO has an opportunity to erase antiquated lines and foster a collaborative environment where a broad range of user types and organizational roles execute on tasks spanning the entire data and analytics supply chain.

Josh Parenteau leads the market and competitive intelligence team at Tableau with over 20 years of experience in the BI and analytics industry, including previous work at Gartner.

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Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary

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