Data may be plentiful, but companies that are energized and organized to wield data effectively for competitive advantage are still in the minority. It takes a major culture shift to become a data-driven organization, and in many companies, there is no better executive to lead the charge than the CIO, who has clear visibility across the enterprise along with the technology credentials to enable transformation.
Newer technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and the cloud are taking center stage in data-driven transformation along with the traditional staples like repositories, analytics platforms, and data cleansing and integration tools. Yet an impressive technology lineup is just one piece of the equation. Companies serious about the shift need to be crystal clear about their business objectives in order to drive cultural change while championing benefits that will win support from the broader population.
CIOs that have demonstrated strong leadership and who can draw from robust interpersonal skills to build and nurture relationships will be instrumental in influencing and orchestrating such cultural change, says Brian E. Thomas (@DivergentCIO), CIO of Swope Health Services. To drive the culture shift, CIOs need to play a significant role in bridging the gaps in technology fluency with business objectives.
“Tech proliferation has led to companies all too often buying technology with the intention of solving people problems,” notes Daniel Newman (@DanielNewmanUV), principal analyst and co-founder of Futurum Research. “CIOs are needed at the boardroom table to lead meaningful human, experience, and business transformation enabled by tech, but driven by an empathic perspective on the future of work, business, and customer experience.”
Key to the CIO’s charter is understanding the business’ overarching vision and goals, using that context to set strategy and showcase tangible examples of how data can be leveraged and measured to directly impact core objectives. CIOs that excel in the role are part cultural anthropologist and part evangelist, contends Jason James (@itlinchpin), CIO for Net Health Fits. On one hand, the CIO determines what data tools and services are the best fit for the organization’s agenda and which will most likely be embraced by users. At the same time, they need to advocate for how data-driven metrics will effectively empower change organization-wide, James says.
It’s a multi-faceted mantle, one that some CIOs might not comfortably embrace. “CIOs need to be team players, silo busters, and service-obsessed while concurrently capable of building a responsive, agile, engaged team to best support a bustling data-driven culture,” says Paige Francis (@CIOPaige), vice president for information technology and CIO for the University of Tulsa.
Hone the Skillset
If it sounds a little bit like superhero work, it might just be. CIOs ready to step up to lead data-driven initiatives and cultural transformation should embody the full complement of executive leadership skills, including knowledge of the business, communications skills, critical thinking expertise, and organizational change management savvy, says Martin Davis (@mcdavis10), managing partner at DUNELM Associates. Stellar communication capabilities, in particular, are essential both to aid in goal setting and for spearheading the innovation process for creating experiences designed to engage both internal employees and external customers.
“CIOs with experience and knowledge of sales, marketing, or customer service can help drive a positive culture shift to a data-driven company,” says Scott Smeester (@scottsmeester), interim CIO with CIO Mastermind.
Along with high-level management prowess, CIOs need the full complement of technical skills to help steer organizations on the journey. Knowledge of basic informatics, data analytics, and data science expertise is crucial, as is the ability to determine the current state of data health while identifying any gaps and barriers that would impede initiatives.
CIOs also need to be able to demonstrate real-time deployment and use of data in a business context. “This is a fundamental aspect of the ability to be agile and drive DevOps-like practices across the enterprise,” says Mark Thiele (@mthiele10), executive director, Edge Cloud, at EDGE GRAVITY by Ericsson.
At the same, CIOs need to serve as mentors, not just to the business, but to the rest of the CXO team. CIOs must lead by example, showing the rest of the organization how they can leverage data resources in real-time to aid in better decision making and, in turn, hit critical business metrics. Doing so will help the data-driven culture cascade throughout the rest of the organization, says James M. Dutcher (@eCIOExpert), CIO for Broome County Government.
“In order to truly institute cultural change, the CIO must lead by example, using data to articulate the ‘why’ of their decisions and continually communicate what data sources matter to the business,” adds Mike Kail (@mdkail), chief technology officer at Everest.org.
Build a Solid Team
Of course, the CIO can’t do everything on their own. That’s why it is critical for organizations to acquire or build out a cadre of talent that has strong data skills and tool knowledge while also possessing a certain pragmatism about how to advance the organization along the path to data-driven excellence.
“In other words, you need people who know how to remove the data-related grit in the gears and can put practical, agile solutions in place to make data accessible, transparent, usable, and secure,” says Joanna Young (@jcycio), an executive consultant and former CIO.
CIOs driving the culture shift should expect to encounter many challenges, only some related to the technology, notes Dan Collins (@realdancollins), director, enterprise architecture for ABS (American Bureau of Shipping) and founder of Houston DevOpsDays. In fact, the biggest hurdle to moving to a data-driven paradigm is hubris, says Collins.
“IT resources tend to think they have all the answers and don’t like to be told to justify their ‘experienced decisions’ with hard data,” Collins says. “The CIO must model curiosity as a fundamental characteristic of his or her organization.”
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