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The CDO in a COVID-Shaped World

Joe DosSantos, Chief Data Officer, Qlik


The CDO role has evolved rapidly – but now is the time to focus on driving simple and immediate change in shifting markets.

The CDO role has evolved rapidly – but now is the time to focus on driving simple and immediate change in shifting markets.

With this change, has come a shift from a back-office focus to a focus on achieving measurable results required by the C-suite. Being a bridge builder and orchestrator of data strategy is a good evolution for the role, and investment in the organization and technology of analytics has generally put the CDO in the best position for success and impact.

Then COVID-19 happened.

In today’s environment, the CDO still has a key role in making sure the company has superior data management and analytics skills. However, the pandemic has ratcheted up the importance of creating real-time value from data vs. the longer term transformational efforts that were underway at many companies. Given the global instability, be it political, financial or health-wise, finding opportunity and revenue wherever possible is essential to both survival and setting the stage for eventual growth. That means being able to use data, today, to have a deeper understanding of customers, employees and the market. As the world navigates the implications of the new normal, the time is now for CDOs to simplify. It’s not about how elaborate the Machine Learning is, but rather how quickly information and analytics can drive simple and immediate change in shifting markets.

There are three key areas the where the CDO needs to drive the agenda:

1. Data Availability Across the Business

We know data is everywhere, and growing exponentially. Most organizations are struggling with a data paradox: tremendous amounts of data, yet limited ability to parse what data is valuable or not, and how to turn data into insights and action. The truth is, much of the data on hand isn’t analytics-ready or accessible. And, data that could have the most value, financial and customer data, many times has vague or complex security rules that block access and transformation.

The theoretical and academic conversations around the power of analytics did CDOs and their organizations little good when COVID hit. A crisis is the wrong time to find out data is unavailable or your well-intentioned governance policy limits the ability to safely and respectfully distribute it for timely decision making. One of the main lessons of the pandemic is that careful planning for tagging and securing data assets with explicit emergency protocols for access must be done well in advance of the moment that the data is requested.

For COVID-19 planning, executives need employee HR and facilities data to design safe and scalable work-from-home policies, real-time sales projections to recast financial forecasts, and third-party financial and governmental policy data to execute accurate scenario planning. CDOs need to take a hard look at how readily their companies can access these various data sources, and how useful they are to their operations. Doing so will both help design the moving forward plan, and put the company in a better stance for the next inevitable crisis.

The CDO must champion the case for a data catalog to enable analytics on demand. The ability to onboard, profile, describe, secure and potentially prepare data quickly is key to meeting the business analytics needs when business truly needs them, not later. CDOs should examine processes to ensure data is in a constant state of readiness. This includes deploying automated onboarding and cataloging that leverages data governance, which clearly defines, classifies and provisions data assets to people who are authorized to see it at speed and scale. Only this approach will create a strong balance between accessibility and security.

2. Drive Data Literacy From the Top Down

Pre-pandemic, executives were already asking for a deeper understanding of data from across the entire business to assist in making critical decisions. COVID-19 only exacerbated this need and made it timelier. More than ever, the CDO needs to help executives convey how they are connecting strategy to data-enhanced executable moments. The speed of business requires much more of the organization to leverage accurate data at the point of decision independently without the intervention of IT or super user personnel. This means removing both the stigmas and bottlenecks around data for the wider workforce as well as those around the data literacy skills to be able to make sense of the data once it is available. The days of the data scientist or expert business analyst having exclusive access to data are over. Helping the C-suite lead from the top down is a core focus for the CDO on the road to creating a widespread data culture.

The CDO has a central role in guiding the various departments toward cultivating data literate employees. It’s a strategy that, when done well, can create an engaged and loyal workforce that feels empowered, and not intimated, by data. Employees who are comfortable working with data help the business differentiate its offerings and provide superior service, a key competitive edge in an aggressive global economy. According to the “How to Drive Data Literacy in the Enterprise report, large enterprises with strong corporate data literacy have shown up to 5 percent higher enterprise value – from $320 to $534 million.

Data literacy’s importance is clearer than ever. CDOs that create an opportunity, through both technology and training, to increase data literacy across the organization will help drive efficiencies and uncover new opportunities that can fuel recovery.

3. Accelerate Speed to Deliver Analytics Insights

Establishing and nurturing a data culture includes heavy doses of data and analytics skills development. However, widespread skills training isn’t enough. For a data culture to truly thrive, CDOs must remove the entrenched roadblocks that hinder the creation of insights in real-time. CDOs are taking a serious look at DataOps, the emerging practice that takes a DevOps approach to data by addressing the people, process and technology challenges to creating a data culture. The CDO should lead the organization in asking several questions: Is the analytic performant in real-time? Is it clearly and seamlessly embedded in applications? Are the analytics having measurable impact? Do we need to adjust our approach based on new market conditions? Is there a specific concept or deployment option that should be explored? A closed loop process will provide a critical link to the non-technical workforce and allow for clear measurement.

The CDO role is a challenging one, especially given the shifting business conditions we’re expecting to be with us for the coming months and years. There are significant cultural, procedural, political and technical challenges in achieving a data culture. However, COVID-19 has shone a light for all of us on the power and importance of data. CDOs should seize on this increased awareness of data’s value to drive real process and technology changes, ones that can help lead the company out of the pandemic and beyond to growth