Chatting with a client recently about the importance to a data-driven* organisation of having a good Chief Data Officer, or CDO, we turned to the topic of change management. But halfway through the conversation, I realised we were talking at cross-purposes: they were thinking about change management in terms of IT. So it’s version control, planned fallbacks, service management and so on.
But I was talking about change management in its wider organisational sense. That’s helping individuals, teams and organisations make and cope with change – whether it’s in business processes, organisational structures, budget and resource allocations, or whatever. And as organisations need to transform in order to become data-driven, it’s this kind of change management that is going to really matter.
Of course, if you research the topic of what makes a good CDO, you’ll learn a lot about data skills: that ability to foster a data-centric culture, promote data literacy, and ensure the quality of data held and managed by the organisation. The CDO also needs a strong sense of the value of data, and to be able to think strategically about how to govern and apply it.
Becoming data-driven is about a lot more than just data
That’s great, but as I reminded my client, there is much more to becoming data-driven than ‘hard’ data skills – not least because a good CDO should most likely delegate the crunchy stuff to technical specialists anyway. It’s more even than the fact that a good CDO – like any senior exec – also needs strong management and leadership skills, including the ability to communicate credibly and persuasively both with their team and with other execs and departments, ensuring they have the budget and backing needed to get the job done.
To my mind, the most important part of implementing a new data strategy is likely to be the organisational change that it also requires, and how that will affect people and teams within the organisation. Get that wrong, and no matter how much technology and data you throw at it, your new strategy will not stick.
So a good CDO needs to understand – and ideally have experience in – organisational change management, so they can drive the adoption of new data practices and tools throughout the organisation. Part of this is also being a skilled diplomat, because building a data-driven organisation typically means disrupting existing power structures, so you need to be convincing, credible and able to work collaboratively, working with different departments and stakeholders to understand their data needs and business goals.
Whether you want to become a CDO or need to hire one, pay attention to the above. It will increase the likelihood that you’ll successfully drive your data strategy and foster a genuine data-driven culture that can turn business data into business value.
Bryan Betts is sadly no longing with us. He worked as an analyst at Freeform Dynamics between July 2016 and February 2024, when he tragically passed away following an unexpected illness. We are proud to continue to host Bryan’s work as a tribute to his great contribution to the IT industry.