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How to Deliver a Successful Data Strategy – And Show Value

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Delivering a successful data strategy and proving its value can be challenging for CDOs, but there are approaches that can ease the burden, improve outcomes, measure success, engage employees across the organisation, and raise the profile of the CDO office.

Discussing ‘How to deliver a successful data strategy – show me the value!’ during a panel session at last week’s A-Team Group Data Management Summit London, Lorraine Waters, board advisor and CDO, adopted the role of a sceptical CEO to ask panel members questions about data strategy today. The C-level user panel included Elaine Priest, global head of data risk at HSBC; Steve Green, chief data and analytics officer at SMBC Corporation; Kate Platonova, senior vice president and CIO for downstream and renewables at Shell; Ayaz Haji, managing director at BNY Mellon; and Diane Berry, chief data and analytics officer at Phoenix Group.

Waters kicked off with an audience poll question to discover how data is viewed at delegate organisations. A pretty good start, with 44% of respondents saying it is seen as a fundamental capability that supports key strategic business growth objectives. Some 26% said it is a fundamental capability that supports operational efficiency objectives, 19% a fundamental capability that supports regulatory objectives, and 7% said it was not explicitly considered. Not so good, just 5% recognised data as an asset to be monetised.

The panel went on to discuss whether technologies introduced over the past 10 years or so and requiring huge investment have created real value for the enterprise. The answer was yes and no, with one panel member noting: “Using any of those technologies in isolation isn’t really a strategy to success. The strategy to success is a coordinated transformation of the organisation, and that needs to encompass data, but it also needs to encompass the way of working and a product mindset.”

With technology per se identified as a minor player in business transformation, the panel turned its attention to more human aspects of success including understanding the business and what’s on the minds of its executives, executing short-term wins on the longer-term strategy journey, making sure you have the right people in the right places, and creating meaningful metrics in line with business aims.

That said, value metrics cannot be bought off the shelf. As one speaker explained: “Don’t make a metric that you can’t reliably measure. It might sound really simple, but a lot of people make up a metric and then they go, oh dear, we don’t really have any way of measuring this stuff, we don’t have a baseline. Also, don’t go for some mega group level metrics with some huge denominator because they’re not relatable. Metrics have to be appealing, simple and clean.”

Moving on, the panel shared its views on the role of the CDO in the success of data strategy and delivery of value. One panel speaker noted: “The most successful CDOs that I’ve come across are the ones who have had the support and sponsorship of the executives.” Another said: “If you’re only set up to be a CDO that’s behind the curtain managing the governance and the regulation stuff and not really at the table with the transformation activity, then no one’s going to care eventually. And you are swappable at that point because you are just another faceless person. You have to focus increasingly on the transformation activity, on why your data is important and what it’s able to deliver, as opposed to just the fact that the data is amazing because it’s means measured and monitored.”

As well as an active business-minded role for the CDO, the panel suggested the need for change in the CDO office. “Don’t just hire the cleverest people you can’t talk to. When you are building a data office you need data analysts, scientists, comms people, business change experts – a blended team that is able to stand in front of stakeholders.”

Moving on to the thorny issue of ownership, Waters said: “I’ve spent about 20 years running up and down that rabbit hole. Legacy organisations seem to be operating in a system-based mode, so they are defining owners for data in a system that doesn’t help with end-to-end accountability of data concepts. Don’t get too hung up on deciding and defining who the data owner is. Organisations change on this, it could be the most senior person, the most accountable person, the system owner, whatever. Pick one and run with it. But ultimately, everybody in the organisation, as everybody has said on this panel, is responsible for the quality and the provenance of the data as well. “

The focus on data was highlighted by another speaker: “We are in a system focused world but all of our businesses understand data way more than they understand systems. But because of the way things have evolved, people talk about systems. By not talking about systems, people are encouraged to want to own data sets because they can talk about data sets, but they can’t talk about systems. That’s what we need to do because the systems change, technology changes, but data doesn’t change.”

Coming close to the end of the session, Waters asked the experts for some comments on how to deliver a successful data strategy and value to the business. “Be very brave and very bold and be creative.” “Minimising ego is absolutely critical. Be bold. If you think, I’ve come in and I’ve got this team and I don’t like the look of them, you’ve got people, use them.”  “Don’t think about data in isolation, really build partnerships. Understand the priorities of the whole organisation and figure out what the partnerships are like.”

Finally, “Don’t just hire the best data people you can find. Think about the broader conversation you need to have with your business. And when we talk about quick wins, try and make them as end-to-end as possible so that you’re showing the value of everything you do rather than just one aspect of it, and make it real to the business.”

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