CDO Exchange 2020

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This week I had the honour of chairing the CDO Exchange.

An excellent set of keynotes covering a wide range of topics from the mechanics and challenges of constructing big data platforms, through to the fundamentals of successful use of AI were highlights from day one. We closed the day with an energised focused on data-driven transformation. Themes like stakeholder management, business case creation, and navigating in a period of continuous change (cf Bloor Mutable Business™) popped up regularly. Most of all it was the tremendous engagement from participants, panellists, and speakers that made the experience very special indeed.

The second day of the CDO Exchange was every bit as interesting and varied as the first, with some great speakers and panellists interacting with a superb group of delegates. The second day’s focus was on AI and data-driven value creation, with an additional, thought-provoking discussion on data ethics. Fabulous engagement once again from everyone involved and a superbly run virtual event thanks to the team from IQPC.

As Chair for the event I had the privilege of being involved in just about every aspect of it and there were a number of things that struck me which I’d like to share with you.

The generosity of the participants in teaching and learning from each other was an object lesson in how to set aside ego and contribute to the benefit of all participants. As a former Chairman of mine once told me, ‘every interaction is an opportunity to learn or to teach’ and of course the best interactions are a combination of the two. I saw that in abundance during the whole event and it was great – everyone just got involved.

In terms of the themes that emerged, I suggested at the beginning of the event that I’d always considered the primary responsibility of a CIO (or similar) was to enable competitive advantage through actionable information. Having been in that job four times for global FTSE100 companies I found it a good star to steer my ship by.

At the Exchange, it was clear that every participant shared that drive to create value through the most effective use of data. So how were they doing in that mission and what themes emerged from the event?

Well, one key theme was the need to ensure there is a strategic context to everything we do. There needs to be a strong emphasis on value propositions and business cases to anchor plans in reality. There’s no point in gathering or manipulating data if it’s without purpose. I think we all know that, but it is so often forgotten in the enthusiasm to “improve” things.

Secondly, it was also clear that right now we have a range of capabilities and technologies available to us that makes just about anything possible, though not always desirable! Platforms, toolkits, augmented analytics, and rapidly emerging AI to enhance and augment. And, most of all, the talent and capability of brilliant individuals in our teams and beyond. Indeed, there was a lot of discussion on how best to structure and organise teams most effectively to allow them creative freedom within a strong framework, both internally and externally.

However, the biggest revelation was the stark contrast between those practitioners who benefited from strong sponsorship and a clear mandate to pursue an agreed agenda and those who did not.

For the former, their ability to accomplish extraordinary things was well supported by business colleagues right up to and including the CEO. Often business leaders had taken the time and trouble to gain some understanding of the most important principles of data science, going some way to removing the ‘language barrier.’ This sponsorship was clearly treasured by the analysts, data scientists, AI, and ML teams, who were all trying hard to understand business priorities and implications.

For those less fortunate, the biggest challenge was getting the right kind of business engagement. Sometimes the data team would be creating something the business neither wanted nor needed, at other times business leaders and their teams just weren’t that interested in engaging. Some delegates even spoke of a parochial approach to data – with politically driven individuals attempting to block constructive change if it was ‘not invented here.’ This is an old problem and it’s perhaps disappointing that it still exists.

There were some inspirational examples of people overcoming this. One speaker, who is enjoying great success, has created business partnering leaders within his team, and even inspired business colleagues to recruit people to their teams who have some affinity with engineering, analytics, and even AI.

It’s clear to me that the data community knows it has a responsibility to help inform business leaders at all levels, and of course those same business leaders have a responsibility to listen. Equally, data teams need to continue to work hard to understand and support business priorities.

Ethics comes into this too. Data is a powerful tool which can enable huge value, yet brings with it a duty of care, not least in ensuring it is unbiased and truthful, and transparent to customers. All of this carries a cost, but the cost of not doing things right is much higher, both reputationally and commercially.

At Bloor Research we passionately believe that the three pillars of people, business models, and technology are so inter-woven today that they cannot afford to be siloed from each other, all the more so as we seek to navigate extraordinary turbulence.

As a research and “navigator” community we love nothing more than helping clients construct their own roadmap for change, bringing an ‘outside in’ perspective to the challenges and opportunities they face.

My fresh hope, having been challenged and inspired by the CDO Exchange, is that we can help client and future client organisations to eliminate ignorance and distrust amongst themselves, whilst positioning their organisations optimally for the future.

Thank you to all participants in the Exchange. It was a pleasure and a privilege.