Unveiling the Value of Data: Insights from a CDO Roundtable

Nomad Data
October 5, 2023
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Nomad Data recently brought together top Chief Data Officers (CDOs) from diverse industries and geographies for a riveting and insightful CDO Roundtable. The central question that ignited the discussion was: "How do you prove the value of data, and ultimately your role, to your organization?" The insights shared were both illuminating and constructive, unveiling perspectives that delve into the core of modern data leadership. The dynamic conversation was moderated by Doug Laney, Data & Analytics Innovation Fellow at West Monroe and hosted by Nomad Data’s CEO Brad Schneider.

Evolving Roles of the CDO

The first fundamental topic revolved around the role of the Chief Data Officer. The participants were all in agreement that the role evolves dramatically over time. Initial focus for a new CDO is typically on initiating the data office and architecting the systems as part of the organization's digital transformation journey. Once the foundation has been established the CDOs agreed the next step must involve engaging their counterparts within executive leadership to determine which questions the business is trying to answer. Only then can the CDO begin aligning its efforts with the rest of the organization and ensure the right data can be surfaced at the right time to address critical business issues.

The conversation emphasized the delicate balance that CDOs must maintain, evolving from technology-focused roles to strategic, business-oriented responsibilities. It was clear that the trajectory of a CDO's role is intricately tied to the organization's digital transformation journey and necessitates adaptability and foresight.

Demonstrating Value to the Organization

Demonstrating value within the organization emerged as another central theme during the discussion. Value can be subjective and varies wildly based on industry, so it’s important to again focus on tying work back to what’s important to the business.

All the CDOs highlighted the need to communicate the value of data in a language that the business understands. This means translating data-centric metrics into financial terms, aligning with the fundamental goals and objectives of the business. While speaking the “right language” is key, it’s also important to consolidate raw data and build accessible data products that directly address the critical questions of the business. The success of data products was underlined, measuring their impact and usage in driving organizational outcomes.

When it comes to hard value contribution in the form of revenue generation, most CDOs agreed it was too early to generate significant revenue from data monetization. Today the focus should be on getting to break even or at least recouping some costs, making it easier to ask for future investments in data projects that can be tied to business outcomes.

Company Culture: A Catalyst or Hindrance

Company culture emerged as a pivotal factor in shaping the effectiveness of data initiatives. Aligning language came up again, this time in ensuring the CDO can have meaningful conversation with the business by aligning data language with domain-specific vocabulary. It was noted it was much easier to teach the smaller data organization how to communicate in core business language than vice versa.

A discussion arose regarding terminologies and approaches. While some advocated for eliminating terms like 'owner' in favor of 'producer' and 'consumer,' others found value in using terms like 'ownership' to emphasize accountability. The importance of permeating the organization with the right language and narratives, ensuring that data concepts are relatable and understandable to all stakeholders, was reiterated.

Leveraging External Data and Addressing Data Gaps

The discussion then navigated through the realm of external data and how organizations handle data gaps. Most agreed on the need for a balanced and judicious approach in leveraging third-party data. Assessing the cost-benefit analysis of acquiring external data and justifying these investments with a strong business case were seen as critical aspects.

Participants shared experiences regarding their organizations' procurement and management of external data. From dedicated procurement functions to ongoing efforts in building sustainable data infrastructure, the strategies employed varied based on the organization's maturity and industry. From the discussion it was clear each data need is unique and there isn’t a definitive list or roadmap for data discovery. Given it’s “more art than science”, intermediaries like Nomad’s Connect matchmaking solution, that sits at the nexus of the world’s most sophisticated data purchasers and thousands of vendors, can play an important role in effective data discovery.

One key concern that emerged was the potential for duplicate purchases. Across some of the CDOs sprawling organizations they had discovered multiple groups consuming separate procurements of the same product. One participant took it a step further, stating testing the same data over and over because information is not shared across silos was even more costly, leading toa lot of wasted time on data the firm doesn’t even buy. A solution like Nomad’s Data Relationship Manager where all organization data purchases and past evaluations are stored in a single system can alleviate this prevalent waste.

Establishing CDOs as Value Drivers

The concluding topic delved into strategies for establishing CDOs and their teams as true value drivers within their organizations. Transparent communication, articulating achievements in the language of the business, and embracing risk were highlighted as essential elements in this pursuit.

The participants unanimously advocated for CDOs to venture into uncharted territories, pushing boundaries and leading their organizations into a new era of data-centric decision-making. One participant encouraged his peers to be brave, take risks, and ask for forgiveness, not permission.

All agreed that once the CDO proves that investing in data provides tangible dividends, the pendulum can start swinging from sunk cost center to revenue generator, reinforcing the crucial role of CDOs in shaping the future of their organizations.

* * * * *

The discussion unraveled the intricate tapestry of the CDO's role, emphasizing the evolving nature of data leadership within organizations. Demonstrating value, navigating through company culture, harnessing external data, and establishing CDOs as the heralds of value were the key learnings for other CDOs to follow.

In a world increasingly reliant on data, the Chief Data Officer's role stands at the crux of organizational transformation. It's not merely a matter of orchestrating data strategies; it's about conducting a symphony that resonates with the business's melody. The CDO Roundtable provided a glimpse into this symphony, setting the tone for a future where data reigns supreme.

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