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Chief data, analytics officers poised to become new business drivers

Chief analytics officers and chief data officers can help get more value from data. But as more businesses add CAOs and CDOs, they'll have to think of how the roles fit in the organization.

Jeff Bodzewski sees that some C-level executives are confused by analytics processes but excited about the business potential of data analysis technologies. That represents a great prospect for highly placed data-focused executives -- the chief analytics officer or chief data officer, for example -- to drive positive organizational change.

"This is a big opportunity -- you have a very willing audience," said Bodzewski, chief analytics officer (CAO) at New York-based marketing firm M Booth, while speaking at the Chief Data Strategy Forum 2015 in Boston.

Many companies have reached a point where they are ready to embrace new ways of making decisions and are looking at analytics initiatives to help them do so. But Bodzewski said few business executives are going to move forward on their own. It's up to the likes of a CAO or chief data officer (CDO) to push other execs in the right direction, he added.

These roles are relatively new -- for example, consultancy Gartner Inc. estimates that by the end of 2015, only 25% of large businesses will have hired a CDO. A lot of companies looking to fill the positions are just writing a chief analytics or chief data officer job description, and even some businesses that have added one or both are still trying to figure out exactly where they fit in the organization and what types of responsibilities they should hold. But the trend is expected to continue upward, creating a new frontier in the C-suite.

Make CAO, CDO jobs worth business execs' while

This is a big opportunity -- you have a very willing audience.
Jeff Bodzewskichief analytics officer, M Booth

Bodzewski said new executives in data-centric roles have to prove their value to the business. He proactively gets himself involved in projects, looking to help solve specific problems for line-of-business managers at M Booth rather than waiting for someone to come to him with a proposed analytics project. He thinks offering up recommendations in that way is more likely to engage business units than having a top corporate executive require them to incorporate his services into operational processes.

"The second that you're forcing someone to do something, they instantly shut down," Bodzewski said.

A big part of proving value for CAOs and CDOs involves managing expectations. Business managers and workers may be unfamiliar with the specifics of what analytics tools can deliver, but many have read articles on the promise of big data analytics, which can lead to inflated expectations. If visions of business benefits aren't managed well, business units may be disappointed when projects fail to live up to unreasonable standards.

For example, Bodzewski said one member of a marketing team recently asked him if it would be possible to attribute sales of individual bottles of scotch to specific marketing assets. He had to explain that getting at that level of analytical granularity isn't possible. But even though he had to adjust expectations downward, Bodzewski said that kind of exchange is good because it means the business is interested in the value his position can add to their work.

Managing internal relationships a must

Any time a new C-level position is added within an organization, there are bound to be some turf battles. As CAOs and CDOs work to better define their roles, they may bump heads with other executives.

In another presentation at the forum, John Bottega, a senior adviser at the Enterprise Data Management Council and former CDO at Bank of America Corp., said CDOs are most likely to run into conflicts with CIOs. That may be inevitable, as both positions focus heavily on technology. But Bottega said that when the two jobs are done right, a CIO and CDO should be complementary to one another.

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"These are not competing functions," he said. "Once we get past this issue where we see them as competing functions, that's when we'll really start to see businesses move."

Bottega said the two executives should focus on their separate strengths. The CIO job, he noted, is fundamentally about managing technology -- the role of a CIO in data-centric projects should be implementing the systems and tools needed to store, move and analyze data. The CDO should be responsible for the strategies and policies that define how an organization uses its data, according to Bottega.

A successful CDO also needs to be skilled at managing relationships, and not only with the CIO. The job often has a good deal of overlap with the CFO, chief marketing officer and other C-level roles, Bottega said, adding that in order to navigate this terrain, a CDO needs to be a leader who can drive collaboration in an organization.

Make first impressions count -- in a good way

As with most things, the first impressions that CAOs and CDOs make are critical. If some of their first projects fall flat, it could make their work difficult going forward.

Bodzewski said one of the first projects he worked on as chief analytics officer at M Booth didn't quite live up to its billing. The quality of the analytics deliverable was lower than promised, and the business team noticed. He said it took about nine months to begin repairing the trust that the business side had in his services.

The lesson Bodzewski took away from the experience is that you need to make sure everything works as promised on analytics projects, even if that means slowing things down. "If you can take a little more time, it's worth it to get things right," he said.

Ed Burns is site editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at eburns@techtarget.com and follow him on Twitter: @EdBurnsTT.

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This was first published in April 2015

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