Is the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) Really the Chief Digital Mindset Officer?

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“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”    -Peter Drucker

When management guru Peter Drucker penned the above line, he could very well have had the data and analytics revolution in mind. In recent years, the “data mindset” has been dictating business strategy. Data and its ability to drive transformational business outcomes are at the forefront of a paradigm shift. While technology is the driver, the real protagonist in true success stories is organizational mindset. The number of times a data “mindset” is emphasized over technology or even strategy in data and analytics conversations is an indicator of how mindset indeed eats everything else for breakfast. 

Digital Mindset: The Biggest Challenge for CDOs

The change from a mindset built around data technology to a mindset built around data monetization is a big one – and it is the biggest challenge facing CDOs today. The paradigm shift from understanding data as “useful” to understanding it as “critical” and then as “core” has happened fast. And it puts the onus on the mindset of the organization. Being data first and digital first are no longer choices, they are necessities. And they need to be incorporated now!

The challenges faced by the CDO are two-fold:

  • gaining credibility and trust as a worthy ally to the CIO
  • getting businesses to fully accept and integrate data strategies

Picture an organ transplant. Unless the recipient's body assimilates and integrates itself with the new, “foreign” organ, the results are severely counterproductive. They can even be fatal!

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Cultural challenges that come along with moving to a data mindset include:

  1. A single vision for the organization: tech/data + business = victory

    Organizations need to embrace not only the CIO but the CDO, as well. An organization should showcase a unified vision to all its employees in cases in which technology and business leaders sit next to each other, and they should talk the language of unified KPIs like growth, scalability, green operations and brand. These things will promote organizational buy-in (through marketing campaigns) and confidence (through word of mouth and roleplay by key influencers).

  2. Team building > team enhancement

    Far too many organizations make the mistake of building a large data monetization team to chase their digital transformation teams. Cultural aspects are often overlooked. A small but cohesive, motivated and engaged team that is committed to the data monetization vision is far more effective than a large team with no real connection. Another challenge is the sheer number of leaders, especially in large Fortune 500 organizations, within the CDO and CIO teams. This leads to too many roles and projects with too little cohesion.

  3. The “data first” mindset

    A “data first” or “digital first” mindset is arguably the biggest need of the hour. Until the last node of the organization, i.e., the individual employee, looks at data as the biggest driver in their work area, data monetization will remain a dream. The message must be driven wide and deep that data can drive growth for both the individual and the organization. While CDO stands for Chief Digital Officer, this role could just as well be Digital Mindset Officer (DMO).

  4. Human capital alignment

    Organizations need to empower the key “data team member” in each business unit and educate that person on the business metrics that matter. If the data scientists and engineers are just playing in the data world without clear direction, then the business leaders have to ensure they come to the discussion table for business visioning.

  5. Acting bold, acting fast
  • Make sure the executive data sponsor communicates and emphasizes that a new direction is required and the new direction will bring new ways of working.
  • Build an agile team structure and give immediate access to technology to all team members.
  • Design new digital tools that focus on access to data, the agility of the cloud and the speed and accuracy of AI algorithms.
  • Break free of traditional thinking while designing new digital solutions, processes and frameworks.

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Many organizations ask what comes first?

Should enterprises build data monetization capabilities and identify data monetization opportunities first, or should they create the CDO role first? Admittedly, there is no right answer or even one answer here. But what we know is this: the data mindset is key, followed by ideation, identification, strategy, planning and pilot projects. We find it is usually better to groom a CDO internally rather than hiring externally. After all, to change the mindset, having lived it is a definite advantage.

ISG has experience designing data and digital strategies for Fortune 1000 enterprises and building a data mindset to sustain solid results quarter after quarter. Contact us to find out how we can help your organization.

About the author

Sush Apshankar has over 2 decades of experience working with Fortune 500 enterprises across the globe. He has also been with Analytics start-ups and lead their growth trajectories. He has successfully designed and implemented data strategies and data mindsets for large enterprises and has advised CEOs on their organization’s data journey.

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