What superpowers does a CDO need?
Below are essential characteristics any CDO’s needs, ideal for a job description. After the list, I want to expand on one new superpower all CDO’s need, oddly where less data is more powerful.
Day 0 a CDO must:
- BE a champion of fact-based, data-driven decision making. However, complex decisions based on experience, gut instinct, leadership and opinions still play a role, but most decisions can now be underpinned with a firmer foundation.
- BE curious about how the business operates and makes money and its drivers of cost, revenue, and customer satisfaction through the lens of data and analytical models.
- BE an ambassador of change. Data uncovers assumptions that unpack previous political decisions and moves power. Data does not create change but will create conflict — how this is managed is a critical CDO skill.
- BE a great storyteller.
- KNOW who is the smartest data scientist in the company, where the most sophisticated models are, and understand and appreciate what those data teams do and how they do it. Managing and getting the best from these teams is a skill everyone needs.
- FIGURE out and articulate the value your team can deliver to the business in the next week, month, and quarter. As the CDO, what is the value you bring to your peers and shareholder in the next 5 years?
- IMPROVE decision making using data for day to day, how to reduce risk and how to inform the company on achieving and adapting the company’s strategy.
- BUILD relationships to source data both within your business and the wider ecosystem. This is both to determine the quality of the data and be able to better use data and or roll out solutions that improve quality and decision-making.
- KNOW what technical questions to ask and being able to live with the complexity involved in the delivery.
Decision making is a complex affair, and as CDO’s we are there to support. Decisions are perceived to be easier when there is lots of data, and the signal is big, loud and really clear. Big data has a place, but we must not forget small signals from ethnographic data sources. Leadership often does not know what to do with critical and challenging small data, especially when it challenges easy assumptions that big data justifies.
A CDO superpower is to shine a light on all data, without bias
Our superpower is to shine a light on all data, without bias, and help strategic thinkers, who often put a higher value on quantitative data. They didn’t know how to handle data that wasn’t easily measurable does not show up in existing paid-for reports. Ethnographic work has a serious perception problem in a data-driven decision world. A key role of the CDO is to uncover all data and its value, not bias to a bigger data set — that is just lazy. I love this image from @triciawang, where the idea of critical small data set is represented as “thick data.” Do follow her work https://www.triciawang.com/ or that of Genevieve Bell, Kate Crawford and danah boyd (@zephoria).
Note to the CEO
Digital transformation has built a dependence on data, and the bigger the data set, the more weight it is assumed to have. Often, there is a dangerous assumption made that the risk in a decision is reduced because of the data set's size. It may be true for operational issues and automated decision making but not necessarily for strategy.
As the CEO, you need to determine the half-life of the data used to justify or solidify a decision. Half-life in science is when more than 50 per cent of a substance has undergone a radical change; in business terms, this is when half the value of the data is lost or a doubling of the error. The bigger the data set, the quicker (shorter) the half-life will be. Indeed some data’s half-life is less than the time it took to collect and store it. It is big but it really has no value. For small data sets, such as ethnographic data, the half-life can be longer than a 3 to 5 years strategic planning cycle. Since some data might be small and could be a signal to your future, supporting a CDO who puts equal weight on all data is critical to success.