Chief Data Officers are Moving from Defense to Offense

MIT is not regarded as a football powerhouse, but the play-by-play at last month’s gathering of global Chief Data Officers sounded like the Big 10.

“We’re moving from defense to offense,” said Joan dal Bianco, TD Bank’s US CDO. “After years of focusing on regulatory and compliance reporting, we are pivoting to use our data assets for innovation.” I’ve presented at the MIT CDOIQ conference over its 11-year history, and the change in strategy was palpable.

For the first time in seven years, all 35 banks passed the Fed’s Comprehensive Capital Analysis Review (CCAR). In the past, many banks struggled with the regulation—not because of how they managed capital, but with proving the accuracy and provenance of the data they reported. This led most banks to create the CDO role, along with massive investments in data management infrastructure.

Now these institutions are looking to turn these investments into a competitive advantage. Brandon Thomas, CDO of Zions Bancorporation, said board members are asking him how they can leverage their data assets to fuel growth and efficiency. There are myriad opportunities, from using machine learning for process optimization to personalizing the customer experience at every touchpoint. These opportunities depend on ready access to secure, trusted data—which is what the defensive investments of the past few years has created.

What is the new offensive data strategy? According to Mark Ramey, CDO of GlaxoSmithKline, it is speed and responsiveness. Innovation requires exploring many options with continuous learning and adjustment. If each step requires a lengthy IT project to gather and prepare data, progress grinds to a halt. In contrast, a well-governed, secure data environment—like those created for defense—enables self-service by business users. Chad Dau of Astellas Pharmaceuticals claims that their data platform has accelerated the time to complete most analytics projects from 3 months to 2 days, resulting in pervasive use of data and analytics in their decision-making.

The move to offense is also elevating the conversation from the server room to the executive suite. My panel at the conference discussed the expanding role of the CDO in the boardroom. Improved data agility is fueling strategic decisions, such as using an enormous data lake of customer, product, and market data to predict the performance of a potential acquisition. Several companies are looking to create entirely new businesses by commercializing insights gleaned from their data.

Properly managed, this data-first strategy creates a virtuous cycle that expands business adoption, accelerates delivery, and continuously improves the content and quality of the data itself. But success depends on vigorously defending the data assets created over the past few years. Innovation and agility cannot be used to do an end-run around good data governance practices. Fortunately, the new generation of data management platforms combine data quality and protection with business self-service, allowing broad adoption while ensuring governance policies are enforced. I predict that CDOs will hold onto the ball for a while, as each success builds momentum and uncovers new opportunities for growth.


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