How to accelerate your data initiatives without hiring a data officer

Small- and mid-sized companies can still develop data-driven strategies if they don't have a CDO.

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In a 2021 survey of 85 blue chip companies, New Vantage Partners reported a surge in hiring chief data offers—from just 12% of organizations having CDOs in 2012, to 65% in 2021. At the same time, less than half of organizations (48.5%) felt that they were driving business innovation with data, only 41.2% felt that they were competing well with their analytics and just 30% felt that their companies had a well-articulated data strategy.

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Even organizations with CDOs felt that they were underperforming when it came to optimizing data assets. So, if you are a small- to mid-sized company that can't afford to hire its own CDO, what can you do to accelerate data initiatives without a chief data officer?

"I think many organizations associate the concept of being data-driven with artificial intelligence and advanced analytics," said Glen Rabie, CEO of Yellowfin, which provides business intelligence reporting. "However, this is not the case." 

Rabie suggests that companies start with basic data reports and that they first explore and listen to what their existing data is telling them. "Then, as you develop your insights, you will gradually move up the analytics maturity curve to get more value from your data," he said. "Organizations first need to understand where they sit in terms of analytics maturity to provide a true, guiding idea on how to become effectively data-driven." 

Becoming data-driven in the age of digitalization is no slam dunk. Even organizations that have CDOs struggle when the CDO's job is not well understood and he or she is not empowered to make decisions and implement data strategies. "The real question here is whether data is considered strategic enough to have C-level accountability," Rabie said.

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Organizations without CDOs should be asking themselves the same question. In other words, does the C-level in their companies take data and digitalization seriously enough to make them priorities instead of just talking points?

One way to promote C-level commitment for data initiatives is to start small and be highly focused on easy-to-prove business use cases that return tangible value right away. "If you don't have many analysts or expertise, use the resources you have to start on a smaller-scale, build your business case to invest in more resources and eventually the business will recognize they need a CDO to build a larger strategy," Rabie said. In cases where a CDO is unaffordable, a strong level of C-suite commitment can at least warrant the hiring of a data wrangler who can map and transform data to optimize its use and value. This can be complemented with an investment in a BI solution that can help drive data transformation forward."

If your company lacks internal data wrangler skills, it can also consider hiring a consultant who can help implement data initiatives while training internal staff as part of the engagement. 

In the end, what you want to achieve is a data-driven focus throughout the company. It doesn't have to be done with a CDO, but it does require commitment from the C-level, a keen understanding of the business use cases you want to address with data insights and the ability to "work over" your data so you can derive the utmost value from it.

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