Data analytics and a hands-on CDO will be what businesses need ahead of next disruption

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Data is consolidating its primacy even with a pandemic on. Let’s put a CDO out there to make sense of it all. Image Credit: Shutterstock

If your CDO (chief data officer) is successful when the inevitable next disruption occurs, you will be ready because you have put in place the right tools, empowered all the knowledge workers, and democratized your data for innovation, collaboration and execution.

As businesses responded to the pandemic, a digital transformation problem that had been bubbling for some time came to a head. Companies had been on multi-year digital transformation journeys, but suddenly found it was now an imperative. The process encompasses everything from moving to the cloud, installing latest software tools and automation, to fundamentally rethinking your business processes.

Last year The World Economic Forum found 84 per cent of business leaders are “accelerating the digitization of work processes,” and another half are accelerating the “automation of tasks”. What the pandemic has done is expose the allowable time for the success of these digital transformation initiatives.

Leaving behind the data laggards

We are in the midst of one of the greatest business resets. It forced businesses to become more data-aware and to recognize the ‘analytic divide’ – the difference between organizations that can leverage data-driven insights and best practices to fend off disruption and those that cannot. The latter group will not be able to weather the inevitable next disruption, be it from new competition, rapid technology advancements, economic turmoil, or the next pandemic.

If the analytic divide, or prolonged digital transformation, is the problem, one solution is to hire a CDO to drive data democratization and an always-on approach to upskilling.

A data team

This is forcing businesses to reshape their organizations and empower their knowledge workers. The entire construct of how businesses operate is changing. Instead of large clusters on campuses, knowledge workers have shifted to their homes and spread out across the country and world. There will be some return to offices, but the distributed workforce is here to stay.

In response, businesses need to invest in their data teams and data capabilities overall, which starts with the CDO.

Forward-thinking companies already have a CDO and empower them to spearhead data democratization across the organization and to lead the digital transformation journey. The CDO should invest in flexible self-service tools, ensure equal access to data and resources and create space for employees to upskill and become knowledge workers to make data analytics equitable within the organization.

Data-driven insights will drive better real-time decision-making across all functions within a business – marketing, sales, security, IT, and more – to respond successfully to disruptive events and expedite a company’s overall digital transformation.

Another benefit of hiring a CDO to drive a data-driven organization, in addition to fending off the analytic divide, is workforce upskilling. Data-driven businesses can upskill their employees to build an internal pool of talented data workers. A study by McKinsey found only 16 per cent of respondents said their organizations had successfully sourced data and analytics talent through recruitment agencies and search firms. Other approaches, like retraining employees, was most often cited as a more effective method.

The goal is to ensure as many people as possible across organizations within a business have access to usable data and can derive insights. This will amplify the strategic output of knowledge workers by an order of magnitude while also offering career development.

Set loose the data team

So, you have your CDO, you reshaped your organization, all your knowledge workers have the access and ability to leverage organizational data. What’s next? Pick a problem and empower the team to solve it.

Say you need advanced salesforce automation because you are having a difficult time predicting the commission expense for your sales team. At the end of the quarter, if you cannot predict what your sales expense is going to be, how can you project your total expenses or operating margins?

If you have invested in your team and the right tools, that is an easy problem to solve. The team will be able to pull data from the right sources and supply insights that have not been surfaced before because of the totality and variety of the data. This is one example, but the same thinking can be applied to any organization within a company.

All these individual data transformations will ladder up to an overall digital transformation journey. Businesses that do not invest in data and analytics will be left behind, reinforcing the analytic divide. 

Building for disruption

COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the need for better, faster digital transformation. It has forced companies to address their technology capabilities and grapple more urgently with the analytic divide. But whether COVID-19 has spurred or accelerated your digital transformation journey, your CDO is the key to future-proofing your business.

The future of your business will depend on it. If done correctly, there will be no such thing as an unexpected disruption because the systems and teams put in place are both adaptable and resilient.

Mark Anderson

The writer is CEO of Alteryx.