Responding to Business Disruption Should Start with Your Chief Data Officer

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

As businesses responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, adapting to new realities and working conditions, a digital transformation problem that had been bubbling for some time came to a head. Companies large and small have been on multi-year digital transformation journeys – an enterprise trend over the previous decade, but now an imperative. The process encompasses everything from moving to the cloud, installing modern software tools and automation, to fundamentally rethinking your business processes for the modern economy.

Last year The World Economic Forum found 84% of business leaders are currently “accelerating the digitization of work processes,” and another half are accelerating the “automation of tasks.” It’s clear as the pace of global business increases, leaders are investing in accelerating their business processes. But what the pandemic has done is expose the allowable time for the success of these digital transformation initiatives.

We are in the midst of one of the greatest business resets in modern history. 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.

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

Creating your new data team

Today’s environment 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 current employees to build an internal pool of talented data workers who have the skills, desire, knowledge, and analytical expertise to be successful. A recent study from McKinsey found only 16 percent of respondents said their organizations have successfully sourced data and analytics talent through recruitment agencies and search firms. Other approaches, like retraining current 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 your data team loose

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. Those who cannot effectively and efficiently leverage data will not be able to weather the inevitable next disruption, be it from new competition, rapid technology advancements, economic turmoil, or the next pandemic.

Final thoughts on building for disruption

Covid-19 has put a spotlight on today’s data problem, 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 has spurred or accelerated your digital transformation journey, your CDO is the key to future-proofing your business.

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

About Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Alteryx. Prior to Alteryx, Mark was president of Palo Alto Networks where he and the team grew the company from pre-IPO in 2012 to become one of the largest security companies in the world. Prior to Palo Alto Networks, Mark led sales and go-to-market initiatives at F5 Networks where he was instrumental in driving the company’s long-term, sustained hyper-growth. For the past two years, Mark also served on the Alteryx Board of Directors. During his tenure on the Alteryx board, Mark played an active role in the company’s operations and strategy. Mark also served as the executive chairman at Avi Networks, a private, multi-cloud ADC innovator in Silicon Valley (acquired by VMWare in 2019) and has served on the board of directors for Cloudflare, Inc. (NYSE: NET) since Aug. 2019. Earlier in his career, Mark held leadership positions at Cisco Systems and Lucent Technologies. He holds a B.A. in business and economics from York University in Toronto.

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